Minority Report (2002)

Cynthia Fuchs

Based on a story published by Philip K. Dick in 1956, 'Minority Report' is science-fiction of the sort that Dick preferred to write -- set in the future, but all wrapped up in concerns that are immediately relevant to the present moment (that the same concerns were relevant back in 1956 is not a little unnerving, as will become clear).

Minority Report

Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Max Von Sydow, Steve Harris, Tim Blake Nelson, Peter Stormare
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: 20th Century Fox and DreamWorks
First date: 2002
US Release Date: 2002-06-21

Tom Tom Tom TOM. He is everywhere: Time, Premiere, CNN, Oprah, Entertainment Weekly, flashing his braces, laughing loudly, loving his life with Penelope, taking phone calls from his kids -- and all this more than a month after he mowed Rosie O'Donnell's lawn and made her lemonade! No doubt about it, Tom is most terrific.

The occasion for the current hubbub, of course, is Cruise's teaming with Steven Spielberg for the definitively ambitious, aggressively affected and strangely affecting Minority Report. While the one-two star punch is surely enough to draw attention to the project, what's even more striking about it is the earnestness of their collaboration, at least as it's presented in the press. To hear these enthusiastic Stanley Kubrick aficionados tell it, they are dedicated to making quality, quirky, non-standard art. Coming from two of the blockbusteriest men in the business, such an assertion is either predictably self-inflating or commendably heroic. And, unsurprisingly, their first joint effort suggests the truth lies somewhere in between.

Based on a story published by Philip K. Dick in 1956, Minority Report is science-fiction of the sort that Dick preferred to write -- set in the future, but all wrapped up in concerns that are immediately relevant to the present moment (that the same concerns were relevant back in 1956 is not a little unnerving, as will become clear). These concerns have been updated by screenwriters Scott Frank (Out of Sight) and Jon Cohen, and reshaped by Spielberg, whose anxieties about the future inhumanity received a more strained treatment in A.I. Still, the concerns are drawn from Dick's, and include privacy, surveillance, human rights (and/as property), addictions and obsessions, child abuse, political intrigue and purpose, and legal definitions of criminality.

The film is set in Washington DC, 2054, a time when murder, for all intents and purposes, has been eliminated. The opening scene thrillingly displays the science fictional technology that will become the film's major metaphor and plot-driver. At the Justice Department's elite Pre-crime unit, detective John Anderton (Cruise) is downloading information from the pre-cogs, a trio of humans who spend their time floating in a vat of conducting fluid, wired to one another and to a big computer that reads images of murders about to happen, that come to them because they are so marvelously ESP-endowed.

This process looks jazzy, as John "scrubs" the images on a huge screen before him, moving his hands so the pictures slip and slide and become clearer or pull out for longer views, so that the information -- where, when, and who is involved, exactly, can be determined in time, so a SWAT-type squad can roar into the area to arrest the perpetrator before he or she completes the deed. After arrest, the pre-criminal is "haloed" (fitted with a head gizmo that leaves you aware and able to dream, but tractable), then whisked off to a warehouse full of tanks, where you're stored, Matrix-like, apparently forever. (It hardly helps that the prisoners' guardian is the creepily inept Gideon, played by Tim Blake Nelson in pasty makeup).

Since Pre-crime has been in existence for some 6 years at this point, the murders tend never to be premeditated (everyone knows they'll be busted), but imminent crimes of passion still crop up, usually only some few hours or minutes before actual occurrence. And so, John's skills are necessary and revered -- he's good at reading the signs quickly and accurately. He's also, on his off-hours, a drug addict, miserable because his young son was kidnapped years ago. His anguish and focus make him a determined criminalist/policeman, a la John Walsh. His addictions -- to a synthetic he cops off the street, and to holographic discs of his son (who significantly asks his athletic dad to teach him to run fast: "Gotta keep running!"), which he watches incessantly, night after night -- make him sappy and tragic, a la Ralph Fiennes' Lenny in Strange Days.

For those depending on him, John's "problems" work out fine: he's driven, meticulous, and increasingly easy to upset. His friends and co-workers call him "chief," and depend on his instincts, for instance, team member Fletcher (Neal McDonough) and Pre-crime info dispatcher Jad (Steve Harris, with little to do here but manipulate some technological falderal and look serious). John's superiors have taken note of his good work as well: no murder in the nation's capital means that Pre-crime founder Lamar Burgess (the exquisite Max Von Sydow) might pursue a political future.

The hitch comes when John sees himself in a Pre-crime vision, shooting a man he's never met. Instantly, his life comes undone: his own team, plus straight-arrow Justice Department Agent Witwer (Colin Farrell), is hunting him. "You don't have to run," says Fletcher; "Everybody runs," observes John, just before mounting a spectacular escape. Not quite Mission Impossible 2 spectacular, but speedy and digital enough to compare favorably with this season's impressively slamming action sequences.

Conveniently, following this daring escape, John knows just where to find the research scientist whose work led to Pre-crime, wise and crotchety Iris (Lois Smith). She's peeved at the way it's turned into a political platform, because she knows that Pre-crime is an inherently fallible system. This potential for error is human, embodied by the pre-cogs and ignored by those who use them. Mysteriously, their gift is related to their being the children of drug addicts. (And the fact that they are stolen from their mothers to serve in this soupy capacity certainly makes the whole Pre-crime business look shady, not least because it recalls historical "experiments," in which human subjects were culled from minority or otherwise disempowered populations.)

Even aside from the crooked politics, the system is flawed in its basic design. That is, the pre-cogs don't always share the same vision, and when this happens, in order to cover it up, the odd vision, called the "minority report," is filed away, never to be read (just why imperfect systems overseers maintain records of their failures remains unclear). As it happens, the lone female pre-cog, Agatha (Samantha Morton, who is luminous), is at once the "most gifted" and the most likely to register one of these odd visions.

The possibility that Pre-crime might be defective has apparently never occurred to John, since his investment in the system is so wrapped up in his own guilt and rage over his missing son (a flashback shows that he takes his eyes off his son for a few seconds at a public pool, and the child is gone -- certainly a timely issue, and yet another version of Spielberg's usual torture-the-kids-to-get-to-the-parents plotline). Now that John's been enlightened, he's wondering if he's haloed people who weren't pre-perps. And hey, what about the fundamental cruelty of keeping the pre-cogs, like pets, in their tank?

A neat solution presents itself: to find the presumed minority report on his own pre-crime (to "prove" he isn't going to commit it), he must free Agatha and get access to her memories, or rather, her visions of crimes that end up not happening because the villains are stopped before they can commit them. Unfortunately, these compelling logical and legal issues don't get much play beyond plot points, for they up the ante in everything else going on in Minority Report, from the ethics of taking predictions as "facts" to the political and ideological ramifications of a society premised on surveillance.

Instead, the film remains rather resolutely focused on John's personal predicament -- his own simultaneous obsession with avoidance of his past, his self-pity and outrage, his determination to make his world "right" (as if such a thing is possible). And so, John -- that is, Tom Cruise -- provides a charismatic, chiseled, thoroughly Hollywood point of identification, one that is surely talented and pretty to look at, but also tends to obscure broader, currently pertinent dimensions of oppression and exploitation -- say, of populations and communities.

But okay, it's a Tom Cruise movie. Try to forget, for a minute, all that machinery, and you can notice that Minority Report astutely links such oppression and exploitation with technologies of seeing. During his run, John decides that he must lose those eyes in order to avoid detection by authorities, as retinal scanners monitor activities at every street and in every building. He visits a black market surgeon, Dr. Eddie (Peter Stormare), who replaces his eyes with someone else's. The grisly episode includes some memorable images: eyeballs oozing in plastic bags; Dr. Eddie propping John's eyes open in a way that recalls Alec's reprogramming in A Clockwork Orange; and recovering from one of those noirish moments where some seedy character, say, Humphrey Bogart, gets plastic surgery to hide his identity.

This eye-swap also allows for a brief series of super-FXed set-pieces, including the cops' "penetration" of the doctor's apartment building with scanner-spiders, little robots that tic-tic-tic through and read all citizens' eyes in their homes; a bit where John has to hide in a bathtub full of ice in order to avoid the body-heat-scanners handled by his former teammates; and a follow-up scene, where John disguises himself with a drug that distorts his face, painfully (baggy Tom -- it's a bit of a jolt). The film represents these invasions of self and space in ways that are terrifically disturbing. Though Minority Report makes a few wrong turns (like A.I., it overstays its welcome, with several possible endings strung together, and closes on an improbably cheerful note), this disturbing sequence resonates. Between seeing and being seen, running is not an option.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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