It is fifty years from now, in Washington, D.C., where familiar landmarks like the Washington Monument are surrounded by vertical highways and where computers in The Gap not only recognize you when you walk in the door but remember what you bought the last time you were there.
John Anderton (Tom Cruise) is a top detective in an experimental “pre-crime” unit. An experimental program wires the brains of genetically altered “precogs” (short for “precognition”) to computers that display their glimpses of the future. Anderton stands before the display like he is conducting a symphony and directs the images so that he can find the perpetrators before they kill. There is no way to know if everyone who is arrested under this program would in fact have become a murderer, but the fact is that since the program has been in place, there has not been a single murder in Washington. It has been so successful that it may be expanded to the whole country.
Anderton only feels alive when he is stopping a crime. When he is not at work, he numbs himself with drugs and watches his old home movies. He was so devastated by the abduction and probable murder of his son that his marriage fell apart. The only feeling he allows himself to feel is the satisfaction that he is sparing others from the agonizing pain that he has suffered. And then the precogs’ next vision identifies Anderton himself as the next killer. He has to run, and as he is running he has to figure out how you prove that you are not going to commit murder.
As with Blade Runner, also based on a story by Philip K. Dick, this is a very traditional noir-ish detective plot set in an ominous future where the apparent ease created by technology has overtaken human individuality. How much privacy and justice would you be willing to give up to bring the murder rate down to zero? Anderton finds that it is less than he thought.
The three precogs are named for mystery novel greats: Agatha, Arthur, and Dashiell (for Christie, Conan Doyle, and Hammett). They turn out to be the result of an experiment that went wrong. The most striking scene in the movie is Alderton’s meeting with the scientist who created them (a brilliant performance by Lois Smith). This is yet another tradition of movies – and before movies, fairy tales and sagas, as the hero makes a journey through thickets of plants to the isolated home of the wise person who will give him the answers he needs to help him solve the mystery. These creatures who can predict the future were ironically the product of a scientist who never anticipated the direction her experiment would take. Like Odin, Anderton must give up his eyes to find wisdom; it is only when he literally sees through someone else’s eyes that he can understand what he is seeing.
The movie is visually stunning, with brilliantly staged action sequences and vividly realized characters. Colin Farrell is mesmerizing as Anderton’s rival and Ingmar Bergman star Max von Sydow brings great depth to his role as Anderton’s boss.
Parents should know that the movie has some graphic violence, including sci-fi shooting, fist-fights, brutal and graphic murders, and suicides. Anderton abuses illegal drugs. We see a flashback of his son’s abduction. The movie also has some gross and grisly visuals, particularly when Anderton has his eyes replaced as a way of avoiding the retinal scans that the police use to track everyone’s whereabouts.
Families who see this movie should talk about how it relates to the challenges our FBI and CIA are facing right now in interrogating and imprisoning possible terrorists. Is it worth violating the rights of some innocent people in order to prevent another terrorist attack? How would Anderton answer that question at the beginning of the movie, and how would he answer it at the end? What about the rights of the precogs? Is it fair to ask them to give up any kind of normal life if it will prevent people from being killed? Families should also talk about Anderton’s inability to come to terms with the loss of his son. How do people go on after devastating losses? And they should talk about their own notions of what life will be like half a century from now.
Families who enjoy this movie might like to take a look at Spielberg’s other movie about the future, A.I. Critics and audiences were not enthusiastic about this collaboration with Stanley Kubrick (“2001”), but it makes an interesting companion piece to “Minority Report.” Families will enjoy Spielberg’s more successful movies about contact with extraterrestrials Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. They may also want to try Blade Runner.