If you could see the future, could you prevent it from happening? Or would events somehow conspire to make it come true?
That's the question -- never quite answered -- that lies at the heart of "Minority Report," a tightly-plotted, well-acted sci-fi movie that dabbles in chronophilosophy when it isn't bouncing through intertwined murder mysteries. Steven Spielberg's direction is tight and dramatic, the actors all do excellent jobs, and the one downside is the lackluster fight scenes.
In the not-too-distant future (next Sunday A.D.), murder is no longer a problem in the Washington DC area. The PreCrime Unit uses three "precogs" to predict where and when a murder will happen, and apprehend the murderers before they have a chance to kill.
Ever since his son was kidnapped, Captain John Anderton (Tom Cruise) has thrown himself into his PreCrime work. His faith in it is absolute, even when the justice of it is questioned by a clever young auditer, Danny Witwer (Colin Farrell). But then one of the precogs sees a vision of Anderton committing a crime: in 36 hours, he will shoot a man he has never even met before.
Like anyone else, Anderton immediately goes on the run, hoping that there is some way that the precogs could be mistaken about what will happen. His former partners and coworkers are all trying to hunt him down before he kills, but they aren't able to keep him from kidnapping the precog Agatha (Samantha Morton). Is Anderton doomed to his fate, or is the future not what PreCrime thinks it is? And who has set him up?
You can't really have a story about knowing the future without delving into the whole "free will vs. determinism" debate -- are we masters of our own fate, or will the future unfold as it was foretold? While it only lightly touches on the debate itself, "Minority Report" hinges entirely on those questions -- and while obviously it can't answer them entirely, it wraps the story in twists and double-twists that swing it both ways.
Spielberg's direction is tight, sleek and fast-moving, and he tosses in casually cruel touches (the eye-scanning spiders) that show the lack of real justice in PreCrime's world. He also shows that he's pretty amazing at making a murder mystery, twisting together some seemingly unconnected murders with a truly plausible precog-related motive. Everything makes sense by the end.
The movie's biggest problem is that the action scenes just aren't that good. The most ludicrous one is Cruise and Farrell fistfighting in a car factory as giant deadly robot arms assemble a car AROUND CRUISE, followed by Cruise simply driving out of the building. Yeah, that won't need fuel or anything.
As for Cruise, he's pretty good here. He's playing the same character he usually plays -- a pure-hearted yet tormented man fighting against the Big Bad System, and his flaws (addiction to a drug I didn't really understand) don't detract from his heroism.
Honestly, I was more intrigued by Colin Farrell's subtle performance as Danny Witwer -- a quiet, religious, intense man whose sense of justice is needled by the existence of PreCrime, and whose hunt for Anderton makes him realize that there's more going on here.. And there's a ring of other excellent performances -- Samantha Morton's ethereal Agatha, Max von Sydow, Neal McDonough, and the wildly underused Kathryn Morris as Anderton's estranged wife.
"Minority Report" is a solid, sleek action movie draped in a mantle of philosophical ponderings, and only the clumsy action sequences bog it down. Even if you're not a fan of Cruise, this movie should be seen.