Thursday, April 10, 2014

Minority Report

Being confined to plaster and a wheel chair is very unnerving. As I sit on my terrace, a pitcher of Margaritas close at hand, I can't help but wonder how I should get out if the wildfires sweeping the west should start ascending the Hollywood Hills. I telephoned Joseph, my manager, about it and he said he'd place an emergency evac chopper with a grappling hook on standby to lift me out at a moment's notice. I've been scanning the neighborhood for signs of smoke all afternoon with a pair of binoculars but all I've managed to see are some rather interesting goings on in the pool over at Charlie Sheen's place.

The corporate leaders of Pic and Save were over here earlier today. I gave them a severe dressing down over their tendency to place the MNM product line in the remainder bins next to the mismatched Chinese tennis shoes and 'Special Buy' threadbare hair scrunchies. VickiWear and the new Vicki's Secret lingerie are to be displayed properly on racks with the large cardboard cutouts of me modeling the various designs or I shall take my business over to K-Mart which could use my helping hand.

I intended to go out to the movies this weekend, but could not stomach another trip on the back of a flatbed. Instead, I rang up that darling Kate Capshaw, with whom I once chaired a charity do, and asked if she could run over a print of her hubby's new film so I could take a peek. She was happy to oblige and soon Nurse Lynn and I were settled in for a generous helping of Tom Cruise in Steven Spielberg's new film, Minority Report.

Cruise stars as John Anderton, a cop in 2054 Washington DC who heads the new, experimental 'Pre-Crime' unit. The unit, which depends on the unique gifts of three individuals with extraordinary ESP powers known as Agatha (Christie), Arthur (Conan Doyle) and Dashiell (Hammett), detects murder before it can happen and arrives in time to prevent the crime from being committed and arrests the perpetrator in the act. The police unit, which dresses and acts a little bit like jack-booted storm troopers, carts off the perps and puts them in cold storage, even though no actual crime has yet been committed. The drop in the murder rate, however, gains them the plaudits of the people and the government, despite the gross violations of constitutional liberties and rights. (One could draw certain parallels to the actions of the current attorney general in the wake of 9/11.)

The 'Pre-Crime' concept is about to be taken national and the Justice department is a little skeptical (DC bureaucracy does not seem to have changed much in five decades) so a Justice Department functionary (Colin Farrell) is sent to nose around the project, upsetting Anderton and his boss, Burgess (Max Von Sydow). Anderton is dedicated to the project as he has a past; a number of years before, his young son was snatched from a public swimming pool and disappeared. This led to the breakup of his marriage to Lara (Kathryn Morris) and his turning to destructive coping mechanisms. When Justice starts to look into his life and the 'Pre-cogs', the ESPers floating in the milk bath, predict that he will murder a man he has never heard of, Anderton heads out on the lam, determined to find out if he's being set up, why he would want to kill a complete stranger, and if the 'Pre-Crime' system is as infallible as they all believe. His journey takes him through a dystopian future in which he meets a geneticist with a lot of peculiar plants (Lois Smith), a down and out plastic surgeon (an unrecognizable Peter Stormare), and ultimately the pre-cog Agatha (Samantha Morton) who holds the key to both past and future.

The script, by Scott Frank and Jon Cohen (based on a short story by Philip K. Dick), packs in enough plot for three features but is never unclear in its storytelling. The various revelations, double crosses, and character transformations are plausible and flow organically out of the story as it unfolds. The structure is solid, other than a tendency to drag in the third act. Some of the tidying up of plot ends feels tacked on and the final two minutes of warm fuzzies is pure Spielberg and could have easily been omitted.

The creation of Washington DC five decades from now is a visual delight. The familiar monuments exist alongside futuristic LeCorbusier influenced apartment blocks connected with magnetic roads. Georgetown row houses coexist with the decayed urban neighborhoods known as 'The Sprawl'. Cars are automatic and require no driver. Continual retinal scans in public places allow the authorities to track individuals and advertising to target each person as they file past. High tech gadgets abound, but seem mostly to belong to the authorities or to the black market. Computers seem to work in an almost symphonic style as the operator conducts searches of data.

The film is deliberately shot in washed out colors, befitting it's film noir style and subject matter. Everything has a cold grey/green antiseptic look and much is made of shadow. The film would probably have looked even better in black and white where higher contrasts between light and dark could have been made. Janusz Kaminski, Spielberg's long term director of photography, uses color tricks, hand held cameras and other off-putting and distancing maneuvers to help keep the audience a bit off balance and to heighten the sense of menace.

In the central role, Cruise is perfectly competent but the part could have been played by any of a half dozen other Hollywood leading men. He brings nothing really special to Anderton other than his usual charisma. The supporting cast is quite strong. As the pre-cog Agatha, Samantha Morton creates a believable troubled creature in a delicate role that could have easily been overplayed for pathos. Max Von Sydow uses his gravelly, authoritarian voice to full advantage as the eminence gris of the program and there are wonderful showy turns by both Lois Smith and Peter Stormare.

The film, however, belongs fully to Spielberg, he remains our premier filmmaker in his devotion to using all the tricks of the trade, not for their own sakes, but rather in service of the story he's trying to tell and the world he's creating. Each action set piece furthers the plot and illuminates a facet of character. He doesn't waste moments and the film is full of those little visual flourishes which make his movies such a treat to watch. Spielberg isn't afraid to weave themes of personal responsibility and destiny into his film. He also raises, but doesn't answer, big questions about crime, punishment and justice. The film would have been more interesting if there were more debate about if a 'pre-crime' is really a crime and the fact that the pre-cogs seem to have no human rights at all is barely addressed. However, these quibbles aside, we're watching a master at work.

Schubert's 'Unfinished' symphony. Organ playing. Nutrient bath floating. Holographic home movies. Rolling eyeballs. Poisonous attack vine. Wood ball dropping. Moldy sandwich. Umbrella hiding. Terrace showdown. Virtual reality sex. 

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