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Friday, July 5, 2002

Keith Keener's

Positive Movie Reviews

Minority Report

I have to admit that I was a little bit puzzled, tantalized even, by the title of Steven Spielberg's new masterwork, Minority Report. How could this be, given Spielberg's usual reluctance to include minorities, except under very special circumstances. Did this mean that Spielberg would include minorities in his film -- and would the "report" be about how some kind white people rescued them? Then the movie opened, and I saw the words "Washington D.C. The year 2053." A shudder ran through me.

I realized that the white people that Spielberg was certain to focus on were actually in the minority, because the census shows that between the immigration and birth rates of Mexicans, blacks, Chinese, and the filthy Italians, regular white people will be only about 2% of the population in that year, and will control a mere 89% of the country's wealth and political power. Even so, Spielberg cleverly sets the movie in Washington, DC, which is, as it turns out, entirely white in 2053, just as it is now, so it all makes sense. I was able to relax, even though I felt sort of nervous about what the hell must be going on all over the rest of the United States at this point.

But I'm happy to "report" that Minority Report uses the idea of the future as a chilling background for the fiercest, trickiest who-dun-it in years. Except for the part about not knowing who actually done it. It's more of a why-done-it, or actually, more of a why-doesn't-Tom-Cruise-know-who-done-it, which is a pretty brave way to set up a motion picture.

The year is 2053 -- wait, I told you that already. Anyway, the DC FutureMurder crime lab is headed by Detective Tom Cruise (Tom Cruise, in a role that will surprise you), who interprets the dreams of some psychics who are held submerged in a glucose-and-protein syrup where all they do is see murders in the future. After seeing their dreams, Cruise has some coffee, talks with colleagues, mourns his long-missing son, reads the paper, mourns his son some more, shakes down a pimp, makes angry love to a one-legged prostitute, listens to a little of the old Ludwig Van, mourns his missing son, and then races off to catch the killer at the last possible second. The DC police may have changed a lot by 2053, but showmanship still counts for something.

In an unpredictable twist, however, Cruise himself is accused of murdering a man he doesn't even know yet. What could this man possible have done to have angered him so much that he would shoot him? So Cruise is on the run from his colleagues, and he has to solve the mystery of why he will kill him, and who set this whole chain of events in motion. Because in this horrible future, movies are illegal, Cruise is unable to watch the movie The Fugitive, which would have answered most of his questions.

Spielberg is a brilliant student of film history, and what is most impressive about Minority Report is the way that he mixes and matches references. So the first half of Minority Report seems a lot like the first half of The Fugitive, but the second half of Minority Report feels more like the second half of The Fugitive.

But Spielberg takes the movie in unexpected directions, by bravely showing us the nightmarish future that awaits all of us. In the future, all technology is designed with both form and function in mind. The "function" is whatever the new technology is supposed to do, like watch people, move people around mostly against their will, torture them, or make them breed with pre-selected mates. But the form is equally important, in that it is supposed to scare people as much as possible. So they could just have floating orbs with cameras do the surveillance, but instead they have evil robot spiders that move here and there, and then crawl up people's faces to scan their eyeballs and to make sure that those with weak hearts don't survive. The "precog" mystics who see the future could have just sat in a cafe, drinking latte and talking to each other about murders, but it's far scarier to have them in a communal syrup solution that makes them all miserable. Toilet seats in the future randomly send intense electrical jolts through people's bowels. Water glasses are deliberately made to shatter in people's mouths. Jukeboxes will occasionally ignore people's selections and instead play "Wind Beneath My Wings" over and over and over again. I have seen the future, and I have just wet my pants. In fear, rather than my occasional incontinence.

None of this would work if if Spielberg didn't have such superb actors at his disposal. Tom Cruise is brilliant as Tom Cruise, a once-in-a-lifetime role that I think no one else could have played. As the so-obviously-evil-that-he-must-be-the-villain-unless-the-screenwriters-have-a-trick-up-their-sleeve Department of Justice agent, Colin Farrell is chilling but devilishly charming with his light goatee. As Cruise's boss, Max Von Sydow has his best role since The Seventh Seal, especially the moment when he deliberately loses a game of chess with Death to rescue Cruise, his young wife, and their missing son. And, in the most delightful surprise of an endlessly surprising movie, Andy Kaufman and Carol Kane are wonderful as Latka and Simka, the zany European couple who give Cruise an eye transplant.

So, the big question is, is Minority Report as good as Hook, generally regarded as Steven Spielberg's finest motion picture? I'm going to go out on a limb and say, it's equally good. But in some ways, it's even more impressive, because it shows the return of Spielberg to his true form. As I pointed out in my review of A.I., I loved it, but it made me just a little angry that Spielberg decided to make a movie that made me feel a little uncomfortable at the end. But when I watched the last half-hour of Minority Report, I was thrilled. Instead of being uncomfortable and provocative, it was like a relaxing episode of Murder, She Wrote, complete with the relevation that the whole murder was due to some kids who wanted to steal some old folks' Social Security checks. I hate kids who prey on old people, as does Angela Lansbury. And Andy Griffith, now that I think of it. "The Master is Back," I said out loud, then repeating it to the people behind me who for some reason thought that "Shut the fuck up" was an appropriate thing to say to me several times in the movie theater. Like some simple conversation with my fellow moviegoers who I have never met is somehow inappropriate. You know, when they see the future that I have seen, they're gonna get their comeuppance.

Random thoughts. I want to buy the Lincoln Navigator. Originally, I hadn't wanted to buy an SUV, but the commercials have convinced me otherwise. Like other upper-middle-class white yuppies, I fantasize about interacting with my social environment by jerking around the electonically controlled parts of my gas guzzler, in sync with the hip jazz band playing from the apartment I'm parked next to. What I like most about the Navigator commercial is the way that the wife comes back to the car, and hands a latte to her embarrassed husband, who realizes that he has been fantasizing about what his life would be like if he were not a loathsome consultant whose restructuring program had resulted in the lay-offs of the homeless musicians playing upstairs. But then he sees the latte, gives his beloved wife a wry smile, and is all set to drive off to the next opportunity for some serious cost-cutting. You know, what worries me most about America, other than the godlessness, is that there hasn't been enough cost-cutting and efficiency. I pray for the day when we are more efficient, like in Minority Report. You know, when our robot overlords occasionally crack the whip to tell us when it is time to work, and when it is okay to go home and watch Season Six of Sex in the City on DVD. I'm actually not an upper-middle-class white person, unless Hostess Ho-Ho's are now considered nouveau cuisine, but I would really like to be.

You know, looking over that last paragraph, I realize that it doesn't make much sense. But I think that you can only really judge someone's writing on whether it comes from their heart. And I am all heart, just like that paragraph. If you didn't understand it, read it again, and again, until you do.

Anyway, I place Minority Report under arrest -- for the future winning of fifteen Oscars!!!

On a scale of four or five stars, I give Minority Report five stars.


Earlier positive movie reviews can be found at home.earthlink.net/~dleheny