Minority Report at 20: Cruise and Spielberg test their limits in top-tier thriller

Jom Cruise has spent the last few weeks — arguably the last few years — arguing that, at least in some circumstances, he could be considered the biggest movie star in the world. Twenty years ago, just at the dawn of 40, this condition did not require such strenuous proof. Cruise made movies and, for the most part, audiences showed up; it had become almost routine. That’s why he got to star in a spectacular sci-fi movie like Minority report without making too much noise. Yes, the film was a success. No, in the United States it has not surpassed Scooby-Doo, released a week earlier. No, this fact did not cast doubt on Cruise’s bankability. It had achieved such chronometer reliability that its appearance in a masterpiece seemed almost irrelevant.

In fact, Minority Report hinges on Cruise’s certainty — his ability to imbue a character with absolute conviction, even if doubt haunts him from somewhere deep within him. He plays John Anderton, a police chief in a futuristic Washington DC who tried out a program called Pre-Crime. The organization taps into the visions of three “pre-cogs” to identify the names and locations of future murders, arresting and convicting offenders before a crime is actually committed. Anderton is a strong supporter of the process as his young son Sean was kidnapped and presumably killed years earlier. Despite his regrets, Cruise still plays something of a hotshot; driven by his belief in the program, Anderton still gets his man.

Standard haunted movie cop stuff; even Anderton’s drug addiction seems relatively familiar. So does the rise of the bad man that Cruise has to go through when Anderton himself is identified as a murderer and goes on the run, desperate to prove his innocence and determined not to fulfill his supposed destiny. Because Minority Report is run by Steven Spielberg, it has a relentless pace and visual mastery. But Spielberg doesn’t usually make movies that could double as star vehicles (his other 2002 triumph, Catch Me If You Can, provides another exception), and his first collaboration with Cruise came at a time when the one of the biggest stars in the world seemed more and more willing. tarnish his image.

Literally: In Minority Report, Cruise looks tense but hollow-eyed, his hair unusually cropped short, his famously jaw-dropping run full of desperation alongside determination. Later in the film, his eyeballs are hollowed out and replaced during surgery in an alley, then injected with a drug that sags and distends his face, all in an effort to disguise himself as recognition software. ubiquitous facial. (At one point, Spielberg has him chase his original movie star eyeballs down a hallway.) The film followed Vanilla Sky, in which his character is disfigured and forced to wear a facial prosthesis – a mask. Today’s Cruise yearns to test his physical limits, sacrificing his body for a grateful audience; Cruise from 20 years ago had his characters test their abilities to maintain their shiny image (and self-image).

If it was just a Tom Cruise featured text, Minority Report would be great fun and a great companion to Vanilla Sky. Remarkably, it’s also a top Spielberg film, in which the filmmaker tested his own limits. His filmography features multiple stories of fathers reconnecting with children, especially sons; it’s the emotional driver of his other film with Cruise, 2005’s War of the Worlds. save Sean. Maybe he has such faith in the morality of imprisoning pre-ordained criminals because he can’t imagine a different future for himself.

Spielberg’s bold act of imagination in this film, then, is to deny his character one; there’s a cathartic end-of-movie moment where Agatha (Samantha Morton), the most talented of the pre-cogs, imagines Sean’s life, recounting a devastating storyline to Anderton and his ex-wife. Despite Spielberg’s singular talent for imagery, he shows none of this; instead, it shows us Morton, his uncanny belief in self-control, in his own way, like Cruise’s.

Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise
Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise. Photograph: Reuters

Certainly, Spielberg allows the ending to be softer than the harsher, darker tones of the film noir stories that inspired it. This noir style, however, is rendered in a technical tour de force; this might just be the ultimate showcase for longtime Spielberg cinematographer Janusz Kaminski. Coloring the future with washed-out desaturation, Spielberg and Kaminski flirt with monochrome – coarse-grained blue and white images transform black shadows into blinding, deceptively utopian light. It’s a brilliant synthesis of a retro-analog past and a digital future (and a fascinating contrast to Spielberg’s old friend George Lucas, who also created a digital world with a few dark touches in his Attack of the Clones, released the same summer).

There is both a timeliness and a premonitory timelessness in these images. Arriving less than a year after 9/11, Pre-Crime feels attuned to the unconstitutional policies of the George W Bush era; the film was written before the fall of the World Trade Center, and based on a Philippe K-Dick story, but Spielberg’s characteristic urgency made it feel particularly up to the minute. And the film’s vision of endless targeted ads reaching our eyeballs and leaving an unwanted digital trail everywhere is essentially Instagram itself. (How does Insta not have a Janusz Kaminski/Minority Report filter?)

It’s particularly striking how this film’s vision of the future is refracted through images of America’s most steadfast movie star being abused and cut up. Top Gun: Maverick, for all its stoic nods to aging and the passage of time, doesn’t attempt anything quite so bold with Cruise’s iconography. “Everybody’s running,” Cruise repeats throughout Minority Report, often admonished not to take a break. It becomes her mantra, her own certainty turned on itself. His embrace of late-career action films, great as they often are, berates that notion: it’s Maverick/Ethan Hunt/Tom Cruise running around and the other characters working around his feats of bravery. In the world of Minority Report, this exceptionalism of Cruise cannot overcome the injustice of the future or the unchanging past.

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