Did you like Mission Impossible, but found the story hard to follow? Did you like A.I., but thought that the future wasn't all that pretty? Well, wait no longer, true believers. Steven Spielberg has given you the perfect film... prettier and more flashy than A.I. and as convoluted as Mission Impossible, but with so much plot explanation and exposition, only someone not paying attention (or most national politicians) could fail to "get it". In fact, this film could easily be entitled "Sci-Fi for beginners" for the steps it takes to make sure that everyone who leaves the theatre understands completely what went on.
This film follows the mantra "Dark, gritty, really really pretty" to the letter. This is 2054, and there are two worlds: The high-rise, upper-class world of chrome and glass, of cool blues and fluorescent lighting, which rise above the dirty street-level poverty that still plagues mankind, and the dry, brittle-seeming countryside, showing nature in a state of perpetual autumn. (Most of the film follows the inhabitants of the chrome/glass world though, so don't despair.) Tom Cruise stars as John Anderton, the operational head of the Washington, D.C. "Precrime" Unit. It is his job to listen to a trio of young people with precognitive abilities to sense murders before they happen and proceed to stop them, arresting the would-be perpetrators of their precrime. But not all is as it seems, and their perfect system has a flaw that could bring down the entire operation... however, whether that is a flaw in the system or a flaw in the humans using the system is unclear.
Actors first. This is a Tom Cruise vehicle, marking his debut working with Spielberg, but unlike most Cruise movies, it is very easy to forget you're watching Tom Cruise in this film. Nowhere in the picture do we see the charming, girls-come-a-runnin' smile, nor do we see the usual flip manner he has maintained for so many pictures. What we do see is a driven, tormented man who, while inherently good, is as weak as any other man while trying to do what is right. This not a typical Cruise role, and he pulls off the character of John Anderton as if he were actually him. Nowhere in his performance was anything to drag the viewer up out of the film, to make the audience go "Oh yeah, that's Tom Cruise right there." His torments, his triumphs, and everything in-between are rock solid and totally believable, but not only that, his performance is emotively sharable. You feel with him, something I can honestly say I've never experienced watching Tom Cruise before.
The secondary cast is filled with good performances. Not superb, but good. Max von Sydow gives us a workable performance as Precrime Director Lamar Burgess. Sydow is reprising a character played in several other films, so there is nothing truly noteworthy about his performance, save to say that he continues to do this type of character well. Steve Harris, known to most as Eugene Young on the lawyer-drama The Practice, plays the closest thing to a buddy in this film, as Anderton's right-hand man Jad. Neal McDonough, Patrick Kilpatrick and Jessica Capshaw (daughter of Spielberg and wife, actress Kate Capshaw) fill out the primary members of the Precrime unit well, with the usual animosities and tensions one expects to find in any police or military unit in a film. Colin Farrell gives a great performance as Detective Ed Witwar, attaché to the Justice Department, on assignment to investigate the Precrime unit. His character is immediately dislikable, being a typical bureaucratic toady, but there is something about him that begins to grab your attention the more he's on screen. Finally, Samantha Morton turns in a great performance as Agatha, the only female precog in the group that gives the Precrime unit their ability to fight crime before it happens.
The visuals are absolutely stunning. The action sequences are relatively few, and well placed. The pacing is extremely fast, but perhaps that's why the filmmakers felt the need to overstress the plot elements, in a misguided attempt to keep the audience up-to-speed on the story around the visuals. The colors chosen for the different segments help to emphasize the idea of the bright new future over the aged, worn past. The look of 2054 is very reminiscent of that seen in the novel Neuromancer as well as films like Blade Runner, Johnny Mnemonic and A.I. It would seem that the rumors are true as well, that Spielberg learned a bit more about filmmaking from working with Stanley Kubrick. This film is very reminiscent of Kubrick's style, and made for a sense of visual and directorial deja vu during the viewing.
The music... well, it was John Williams, who has proven once again that he continues to grow. Only twice in the film was I made aware of the music, which demonstrates how Williams has continued to evolve into a true filmic musician, one that realizes completely that music is an element that, in order to do what it is intended, must blend in completely with all the other elements of the film. This score does that, and provides the mood for every scene with a deft mastery of the emotive ability music embodies.
Overall, I give this film a B. This film is worth seeing in the theatre, to take in all that it has to offer. Just be prepared to be beaten about the head and face with the plot elements a bit, and prepare for the film to slow down towards the end before bogging down into what a friend of mine called "the romance story ending". If Spielberg can just get over his obsessive need to wrap up every story in a neat, tidy little package and leave a few more things for the audience to work out on their own, he will have completed his journey to becoming a truly legendary filmmaker. Now if only he could teach some of what he's learned to his pal George Lucas...