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Minority Report

Released 2002. Director: Steven Spielberg

HOW MUCH ARE YOU WILLING TO GIVE UP IN RETURN FOR a crime-free society? Are you prepared to sacrifice personal freedom and privacy? In the year 2054, the predicament becomes imperative when a new technology successfully uses precognition to prevent crime – even before they happen.

In this revolutionary crime fighting method, the government harnesses the power of a triplet with a psychic ability to foresee the future. Known as “pre-cogs,” they are the computer that never sleeps, forever living in constant nightmare as visions of violence play in their mind. With state-of-the-art decoding, the would-be criminals are identified and captured even before the act is carried out.

Whilst the system is highly questionable and arguably unscientific, as an idea it opens up a Pandora’s Box of intriguing philosophical debates: predestination versus free will, certainty versus probability. Is the future neatly laid out in an unalterable course, or do we have the power to elect what happens next? The strange authority of certain people who have the right to stop others from carrying out a course of action is almost draconian. People are arrested and jailed without trials when no crime has been committed – yet. The concept of justice is subverted. Crime and punishment takes on a new shade of meaning, more sinister, but maybe reassuring if you happen to be the next “victim” of a brutal death, yet no less puzzling in its application.

Against this mind-bending backdrop Tom Cruise finds himself a fugitive when he’s “seen” to shoot and kill man he doesn’t even know. To evade his captors Tom resorts to painfully desperate measures to solve the puzzle, including replacing his own eyeballs. Tom’s character John Anderton knows all the tricks and loopholes because he happens to be the head of the pre-crime unit running the operation. Now the people who work for him are out to get him. So John runs and hides, while the clock is ticking down by the second until his future catches up.

The future in Minority Report is an amazing sight of technological and engineering innovation. Self-driving electromagnetic cars speed on multi-lane vertical highways. Fingertip editing of brainwave generated visions. Holographic projection of video recording. Propulsion jetpacks replace police cars. Security checks carried out by an army of scurrying robotic spiders.

No matter how much futuristic hardware changes lives, human nature will always remain the same. And the primary drivers always underpin a good detective story. We can never be quite sure of the real motive of the characters we see. Jon Anderton will kill -- this has been pre-determined. Is his boss, played by then 73-year-old Max Von Sydow, a father figure to Anderton, hiding something? Is the agent from Department of Justice, played by Colin Farrell, here to discredit the pre-crime unit? Who is the drowning woman glimpsed in a vision? Is this a set-up?

Besides being a terrific chase movie, Minority Report blends sci-fi and tech noir into a hardworking whodunit. When the future sends a message, someone tries to blur the distinction between past and future to get away with murder. Who, what, where, why and how – a manipulation of facts and exploitation of the future conspire to construct a compelling mystery.

The first bona fide mystery thriller from Spielberg is inspired, mature and cerebral. One of the world’s most influential movie directors balances popcorn entertainment, social commentary and cinematic art in an exciting package without compromising on narrative weight.

Spielberg’s vision of this crime-free future, as rendered by cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, is stylish and slick but also feels like looking at the bottom of a stainless steel saucepan. There is a coldness to the efficiency. But just as you suspect Spielberg has veered away from his signature emotional warmth and fuzziness with all the film noir elements draped in techno disguise, he surprises you in the final scene.

This last moment affirms that the man is still very much fond of the traditional goodness of a simpler humanity. The adult pre-cog triplets, now free of their nightmares, sit reading by a log fire, surrounded by stacks of books in a cabin on an island bathed in the rich, embracing glow of a sunset. Not a computer in sight in this future. A nice touch to show that not everyone will end up chained to technology.

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