As much as I admire its aims and look, "A.I.: Artifical Intelligence" sadly ended up being a rather poorly executed failure. The less said about the woeful "Vanilla Sky" the better, but in both cases they proved quite different films for Spielberg and Cruise respectively. Now the pair have teamed up for this more straightforward and grittier sci-fi Fugitive-style thriller which, while not deserving the "best since Raiders" calls being made about it, nevertheless proves a quite engaging blockbuster which puts both back toward the path of the kind of material that made them the stars they are today.
Cruise delivers his usual style of solid performance which is thankfully backed by some decent material this time. He's an actor you can immediately believe in the role as a guy with both the physical and mental stamina to stay on the run - and although there's some over the top moments (including one bit where he channels his Vanilla Sky Elephant Man performance), for the most part he's effortlessly watchable.
Colin Farrell, who looks like he's impersonating a young brunette Brad Pitt in this, has sheer charisma and spunk which helps overcome a rather flat character that is sort of the film's bad guy in that he's out for himself rather than Cruise (if only he weren't so damn selfish). Stormare does one of his best roles in ages as a rather over the top buffoonish eye removal surgeon, on the opposite end of the scale Von Sydow is quite disappointing as the 'father of Pre-Crime' - so much so the one scene with Lois Smith (the 'mother of Pre-Crime') in a greenhouse proves one of the film's rather quirky highlights. Samantha Morton is the showstealer though as the Pre-Cog Agatha, an emotionally charged role which pushes her hard and she lives up to each moment.
The FX are quite impressive, my favourite easily being the gratuitous use of a huge variety of vertical and oddly angled highways which cars zoom out and through in such a frenzy that one action sequence spent with them (seen in the trailers where Cruise leaps from car to car) is breathtaking. Throughout this future there's all sorts of nifty "Total Recall" esque gadgets including a sick stick (ably demonstrated in one scene), jetpacks, retinal scans everywhere, omni-present advertising, holographic pleasure rooms - none of this is particularly new ideas of the future but the design of each is quite spiffy and adds to the film's whole atmosphere.
Indeed, much like "Spider-Man" earlier this Summer, its the opening act which sets up what pre-Crime is and the initial stages of his 'running' that are easily the film's strongest moments. The opening 20 minutes devoted to showing off Pre-Crime in action is quite tense and compelling - a well constructed and executed sequence overall that's easy to understand and establishes the intriguing concept well. However its a little bit downhill from there with most notably the use of handcam in the warehouse shootout proving so visually violent its difficult to tell what in the hell is going on.
The first jetpack confrontation scene with his cop frends in an alley is a fun scene, and there's one great sequence where mechanical spiders crawl throughout a building trying to find him. Not helping though is DOP Janus Kaminski whose work gives us a strong blue and white style washed out look throughout which sadly makes this rather 'soulless' endeavour feel colder than it already is and despite the funky future gimmicks the film's look pales compared to that of another Phil K. Dick story translated 20 years ago (ie. "Blade Runner") even if the story is more engaging.
One major problem with the film is the dual ending. Spieberg and Cruise spend the whole film vying to do material that's darker and more adult than ever before, and had the film cut off at the two hour mark it would've capped it off with a most un-Spielbergian like and believable story end - however the next 20 minutes falls into a rather cliched revelation scene right out of a bad "Murder She Wrote" episode. Another is the very tired old dead son subplot which, even though it utilises some pretty decent holo-technology tricks, feels so overdone and trite one wishes it would've just been cut altogether. Its necessary to the film I understand, but do we have to have that cloying scene where he's watching the holo-vids?
There's also a few big plot holes that pop out too - John's retinal access back into the most vital (and surprisingly unguarded) room within the PreCrime Bureau still works long after he was declared a fugitive. The pre-cogs were said to only see murder yet one accurately predicts all sorts of minor things in a shopping mall scene (though that could be considered an event leading up to the murder, therefore possible). In a process where time is of the essence then why are extensive wooden ball dropping machines in use - yes the balls themselves I understand due to their non-duplication, I'm referring to the extensive gumball track they travel on (one more curve in that track and the attack in the opening 30 minutes would've ended differently).
As soon as I heard the premise for the film an ethical issue reared up in my mind which I was hoping would be explored or at least mentioned but neither happens - what about the issue that by preventing these murders they are allowing people who should have died to live and what if one of them becomes the next Hitler? The only way that's not a problem is if Pre-Crime lasts forever (no agency in history has lasted forever) and is in use worldwide. I mean say one of the people who should've died moves to England (where Pre-Crime is not established), and a year later has a nervous breakdown and commits a massacre - killing 30 people who wouldn't have died if the survivor had been killed as originally intended. That's the trouble with meddling with history folks, it gets very messy - very quickly. There's also the question of the fact that they're not only interfering with the Bill of Rights and freedoms of people who haven't actually committed crimes, and the fact they're subjecting three innocent but gifted young people to a life of nearly comatose slavery in a pool.
Most of these complaints are minor and what they invented a fast forward button for when it eventually comes to DVD, but its a shame as otherwise its a quite cohesive and well constructed film. For the easy majority of its runtime, "Minority Report" is a slick and dark flick which proves slightly different from what you might expect even if its grand ideas of the future to its main 'on the run' plot have been done many times before and even in such capable hands still feel somewhat generic. Don't believe the hype, this is far from Spielberg or Cruise's best and certainly not likely to be the Summer's best, though is one of the few films I've seen so far this year that I would recommend and it is one to see on the big screen.