On the 5th June, we’re holding a free crime classic cinema screening to celebrate the launch of the videogame Murdered: Soul Suspect. You can find out details of the screening, and how you can vote for the film you most want to see, here.
For now, here’s our look back at the last of the films you can choose from: Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report.
NB: This article contains spoilers.
Near the beginning of his career, Tom Cruise was a hair’s breadth away from playing the lead in Terry Gilliam’s sci-fi classic, Brazil. Gilliam, casting around for a decent 20-something actor to play the lead role of Sam Lowry, saw Cruise in his breakthrough film, Risky Business, and was immediately impressed by the performance.
“There was Tom Cruise in his knickers,” Gilliam said in issue 298 of Empire, “and I just said, ‘This kid’s fantastic! He’s a movie star!’”
The feeling was mutual – Cruise was also excited about the possibility of appearing in Brazil. The rising star’s management, however, had other ideas. “In the end, I got a phone call from Tom, and he was almost weeping,” Gilliam recalled. “He said, ‘I can’t. My people won’t let me do it.’”
Ultimately, Jonathan Pryce got the Sam Lowry role, and Cruise went on to star in Ridley Scott’s Legend (1985) and Tony Scott’s Top Gun (1986) – the latter sending him careening into Hollywood’s A-list. Whoever Cruise’s ‘people’ were back in the 80s, they clearly weren’t keen on letting him loose on the science fiction genre. It took until the 2000s before the Cruiser began to make sci-fi films, beginning with Vanilla Sky (2001), before following it up with Minority Report (2002), War Of The Worlds (2005), Oblivion (2013) and most recently, Edge Of Tomorrow (2014).
Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report is arguably the pick of the genre bunch, offering up an original, compelling dystopia on a par with Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Based on a short story by Philip K Dick, Minority Report imagines a future where murder is on the cusp of almost complete eradication. A group of three psychics (dubbed ‘precogs’) have the power to foresee killings before they happen – allowing a special law enforcement unit headed up by John Anderton (Cruise) to step in and arrest would-be criminals before they have the chance to execute their evil plans.
Anderton’s PreCrime unit is such a success that it’s about to break out of its Washington DC confines and spread to the rest of America. But then a crisis emerges for Anderton: the precogs announce that Anderton will commit a murder within less than two days. With Anderton apparently framed for a crime he hasn’t yet committed, he’s forced to reevaluate what he thought was a fool-proof system, and also root out the traitor who somehow set him up in the first place. Is the future set, as the PreCrime system assumes, or is there such a thing as freewill? This is the thorny question at the heart of Minority Report.
In expanding Philip K Dick’s short story, Spielberg and screenwriters Scott Frank and Jon Cohen understandably took a few liberties, yet the finished film is still recognisably Phildickian in tone. The writer’s stories were always full of paradoxes and absurd situations – one such sublime example is the protagonist of A Scanner Darkly investigating his own crimes – and they frequently played out like detective thriller tales with surreal additional elements and troubling philosophical implications.
Spielberg himself loved the way the Minority Report script blended the sci-fi and mystery thriller genres, and it’s arguably this that makes the resulting film so exciting to watch. Sure, the future tech and gadgets are all present and correct – and some of them, like the ‘sick sticks’ and the mass transportation systems, are quite unique – but it’s the thriller element which makes Minority Report really stand out.
Cruise’s protagonist is an intriguingly flawed one, too. Sure, Anderton gets to do all the Cruise stuff we’ve come to expect from one of his films – grinning, running around a lot, hanging off things – but there’s also a murky, compromised side to his character. He’s a drug addict, traumatised by the disappearance of his own son, and, we suspect, quite capable of murder. Could it be that the precogs’ vision of the future is actually correct?
In the search for the answer to that question, Spielberg takes us through a network of blind alleys, dimly-lit rooms containing crooked eye surgeons (Peter Stormare is a particular highlight among the starry supporting cast), potential suspects (including Colin Farrell’s smarmy young Department of Justice agent) and a handful of often spectacular action set-pieces. At the centre of the mystery stands Agatha Lively (Samantha Morton), the most powerful of the precogs, and Anderton’s key to solving the case.
Fittingly for a film that is about predicting the future, Minority Report is itself eerily prescient. Spielberg and his scientific advisors spent a considerable amount of time extrapolating the present (as it was in the early 2000s) to create their best guess at what the year 2054 might look like. From our present vantage point in 2014, their ideas seem worryingly close to the mark.
“I wanted all the toys to come true someday,” Spielberg told Roger Ebert in 2002. “The Internet is watching us now. If they want to. They can see what sites you visit. In the future, television will be watching us, and customizing itself to what it knows about us. The thrilling thing is, that will make us feel we’re part of the medium. The scary thing is, we’ll lose our right to privacy. An ad will appear in the air around us, talking directly to us.”
All of these things are already becoming (or indeed, have become) a reality in the present. We may not have PreCrime yet, but we have become somewhat inured to the idea of security forces monitoring correspondences and web presences for signs of potential terrorist plots or extremist leanings. In this regard, Minority Report is just as relevant a science fiction film as it was a decade ago.
It may have taken almost 20 years, from the moment Terry Gilliam first saw him dancing around in his knickers in Risky Business, for Tom Cruise to finally star in a science fiction flick, but it was well worth the wait. As both a prescient piece of sci-fi and a mystery thriller, Minority Report is one of the most satisfying genre films of the past 20 years.
Here’s where you can read about the other crime classics you can vote for: