the loss of privacy, and the exceedingly timely notion of anticipating criminal behavior. Stylistically, it's another tour de force for Spielberg, but with more commercial firepower than his equally visionary but often unjustly maligned 2001 sci-fi fable, A.I. Artificial Intelligence.
Spielberg's box-office weapon, of course, is Tom Cruise, who brings his patented charisma and physicality to the role of a supercop turned fugitive. Cruise plays John Anderton, head of the Justice Department's Pre-Crime unit, which has been phenomenally successful in eliminating murders in the nation's capital, with the help of three "Pre-Cogs"--psychics immersed in a special tank who are able to visualize the details of violent crimes before they happen. Like an orchestra conductor hunting for an elusive note, Anderton takes the Pre-Cogs' images, recorded on clear panels, and mixes and deconstructs them until he's found the scene of the future crime. Anderton, still mourning the disappearance of his young son and the resulting collapse of his marriage, never questions the accuracy or morality of his work--until the day the Pre-Cogs conjure up a picture of the cop fatally shooting a man he's never met. Convinced he's been framed, Anderton flees headquarters and tries to get some answers in the 36 hours before the forecasted murder. Eluding capture in this highly intrusive future world isn't easy; thanks to the modern science of retinal identification, Anderton must even resort to a black-market eyeball transplant.
Based on the short story by the prolific Philip K. Dick (best known for the novel that inspired Blade Runner), Scott Frank and Jon Cohen's screenplay is, along with its amazing sci-fi trappings, a terrifically twisty mystery tale. The film noir elements are just as strong as the fantasy, as Anderton finds himself the victim of an elaborate plot which is tied to the past and future of the Pre-Crime program. Along the way, there are a number of wild set-pieces: a high-speed chase in vehicles that move horizontally and vertically; a grotesquely comic visit with a crazed underground eye surgeon (Peter Stormare); a raid on a ghetto apartment building by an army of creepy robotic spiders that scan human eyes. The movie's portrait of mid-21st-century commerce is an advertiser's wet dream (and consumer's nightmare), as billboards and video screens in stores and malls give personalized sales pitches cued by your eye ID. (Even the cereal box on the breakfast table is animated.) The film frame itself is a constant collage, with some sort of projected image invariably competing with the actors onscreen; visually, this may be the most adventurous work Spielberg has ever done.
Cruise's muscular star performance is abetted by a terrific supporting cast, led by rising Irish actor Colin Farrell as the aggressive, skeptical Justice Department observer who becomes the movie's prime suspect. The camera likes Farrell every bit as much as Cruise, and their every two-shot makes an interesting charisma contest. The gifted Samantha Morton (Sweet and Lowdown) is fabulous as the haunted lead psychic Agatha, while veteran Lois Smith is slyly brilliant in her one scene as the scientist who inspired the Pre-Crime program. Another acting great, Max von Sydow, is indispensable in the key role of the division's founder.
With a nervous nation reconsidering constitutional rights as it roots out potential terrorists, the timing couldn't be more eerily appropriate for this cautionary tale about the ultimate answer to homeland security. Unlike other summer fantasy entertainments, Minority Report offers no escape from thought--just what the majority of movies ought to be doing.