So many movies about relationships are formulaic and boring. But I’m here to tell you about one that is a hidden gem that you should watch on your next movie night. It’s The Four Seasons. Here are 5 reasons it’s worth checking out.
1. It follows a group of couples over a span of time.
Unlike so many movies where people fall in love with someone they met five minutes ago, The Four Seasons follows a group of married couples during their seasonal vacations over a period of time. We get to see the couples have their ups and downs with each other, and how one of them getting divorced impacts the group dynamic. These aren’t formulaic movie characters, but flawed humans. And it’s refreshing to see such fully fledged characters.
2. The cast is loaded with great talent.
In addition to a great story, The Four Seasons benefits from a cast that is to die for: Alan Alda, Carol Burnett, Rita Moreno, Jack Weston… Sometimes when there’s that much talent onscreen it’s tempting to overact. That is not the case here. The chemistry of the actors is a joy to watch. I especially enjoy the scenes Alda and Burnett share.
3. It’s a reminder that Alan Alda is a triple threat.
It’s a rare person who can write, act and direct. Alan Alda is one such rare person. He does all three for this movie. He displays the same effortless ability to handle all three disciplines that he showed on his sitcom M*A*S*H.
4. It gives us a rare glimpse at adult couples whose relationships have endured the test of time.
So many romantic movies follow young, naive couples and they’re just not believable. The Four Seasons shows us one relationship that falls apart and two that are repeatedly tested. Getting married isn’t an achievement. Having a healthy relationship that lasts through adversity is. The Four Seasons doesn’t sugarcoat anything. And I love it for that.
5. It’s a testament to the power of friendship.
While so many movies focus on teens or young adults with an endless parade of superficial friends, The Four Seasons shows us friendship should be about quality instead of quantity. Here at last is a movie that gives us a tight knit, engaging small group of friends. It’s a more realistic depiction of friendship as you get older and it allows us to get a more complete picture of the core characters.
Last year I made my first trek to the TCM Classic Film Festival and had an amazing time! 89 days from now I will be heading back for another four days of classic films and camaraderie. While the full slate of films is far from finished, one added to the schedule this week has me giddy: Amadeus. If you’re attending the festival and haven’t seen it, do not miss this opportunity. Here are five reasons:
1. The sense of time and place is impeccable.
Milos Forman’s film might not be strictly historically accurate from a story standpoint. But watching it, the viewer really feels like they’re in the Vienna of Mozart’s time. The costumes, sets and everything in the frame is a feast for the senses. It’s no wonder the festival organizers chose screening it as part of the tribute to Patrizia von Brandenstein, who won an Oscar for the incredible production design.
2. It represents the kind of epic filmmaking we don’t see much anymore.
At a time when so many studios concern themselves only with box office and films with more ambitious ideas have to fight to be seen, Amadeus is a reminder that when studios take a risk it can pay off. Even though classical music was not en vogue in 1984, the film became a box office hit. Despite not being an easy sell, the public embraced the nearly three hour biopic.
3. Amadeus deserves to be seen on the biggest screen with the best sound system.
This is related to my second reason above. Like many of my generation, I got to see this masterpiece on home video. And that’s better than nothing. But the scope and scale of this film can not be fully appreciated on a small TV screen. A few years ago I bought the DVD of the director’s cut. Even screening it on my home theater made a difference. I can only imagine what it will be like on a big screen.
4. Tom Hulce and F. Murray Abraham put on an acting clinic in the film.
F. Murray Abraham rightly won an Oscar for his performance as Mozart’s tortured rival composer Salieri. Abraham and Hulce were up against each other in the lead actor category. And both are straight up brilliant. The dynamic between the two actors is a joy to behold. Two of the best performances you will see in any movie ever.
5. It’s a reminder of what a great director Milos Forman was.
While Milos Forman’s career was brief, it was also brilliant. He made the quirky but charming comedy The Fireman’s Ball, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, the rock musical Hair, Ragtime, The People vs. Larry Flynt and the Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon. Amadeus is his magnum opus. That’s saying a lot given his body of work. Forman was a truly innovative and versatile artist.
Happy New Year, readers! Hope you all had a lovely holiday season. If you got stuck inside because of crummy weather, hopefully you had some good movies to watch. To start 2023, I decided to do a piece on Barbara Stanwyck. She was one of the most versatile actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age. It was hard to narrow down her top ten performances. But here are my choices.
10. Christmas In Connecticut
Admittedly I’m more of a Halloween person. And yet, I end up watching Christmas In Connecticut every December. As Elizabeth Lane, a Martha Stewart-type writer, Stanwyck proves to be as equally good a comedienne and romantic lead. The twist in the story is that, while she’s perceived as a domestic goddess, she’s actually a fraud. She can’t cook, she’s not married…It’s all a lie. Her attempts to cover it up when her editor comes to her house for the holidays make for some great comedy. My favorite scene though is at the end where she tells him off in a truly epic burn.
9. Ball of Fire
I have a controversial classic film opinion. I’m not a huge Gary Cooper fan. However, two of his films that work for me co-star Stanwyck. Something about the two of them together just lights up the screen. One of those movies is Meet John Doe. The other is Ball of Fire. Stanwyck plays Sugar Puss O’ Shea, a nightclub singer wanted by the police to bring down her mob boss lover. Enter Cooper as part of a group of professors working on a new encyclopedia who take her in. The storyline sounds ridiculous. But it works. Credit to the great cast that also includes Henry Travers, S.Z. Sakall, Dan Duryea and Dana Andrews. The way Stanwyck is both a tough broad and a colorful woman who shows the stuffy professors how to have fun. It’s another reason Howard Hawks is one of my favorite directors.
8. Executive Suite
Another great Stanwyck performance is in Executive Suite. It’s an ensemble movie with a cast to die for, including William Holden, Fredric March, Shelley Winters and Walter Pidgeon. Stanwyck plays Julia O. Tredway, the daughter of Tredway Corporation founder Avery Bullard. When Bullard drops dead suddenly, a new head of the company must be chosen. All of the company’s executives vie for the position. And Stanwyck is brilliant as an astute businesswoman caught in the middle of it all. In a great ensemble she shines as bright as ever.
7. Sorry, Wrong Number
While Stanwyck excelled at both drama and comedy, noir Stanwyck will always be my favorite Stanwyck. In Sorry, Wrong Number she shows both pluck and vulnerability. She plays Leona Stevenson, an invalid convinced she heard a murder being committed while on the telephone. How she uncovers the truth and refuses to be dismissed as crazy is something to see. Bonus? It also has Burt Lancaster.
6. My Reputation
I was late to the party on this one, discovering it on TCM by accident one day. In it. Stanwyck plays a widow who refuses to conform to society’s expectations of widows in the 40s. Losing her husband to a long illness has left her physically and mentally drained. Her mother pressures her to marry the family attorney. But she’s just not interested. Instead, she falls for an army major while on a ski vacation with a friend. She’s then forced to endure the gossip/disapproval of her family and social circle. This is just one of the many unabashedly feminist characters Stanwyck would play.
5. The Lady Eve
If you ask me to pick the definitive Barbara Stanwyck screwball performance, The Lady Eve gets my vote. As con-artist Jean Harrington, Stanwyck is absolutely hilarious. She pursued brewery heir Charles Pike (Henry Fonda) while they’re on a cruise ship. They hit it off, but breakup over a misunderstanding. Her attempt to get back at him is straight up comic gold! Fonda’s physical comedy chops might surprise you. A truly inspired romp written/directed by Preston Sturges.
4. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
Another noir on the list. And this one Pablo a punch! When Martha Ivers (Barbara Stanwyck) was 13, she tried to run away from her despicable aunt with the help of her friend Sam (Van Heflin). She is foiled by Walter (Kirk Douglas). In a fight between Martha and her aunt after she is brought home, she hits her aunt with a cane. This causes her to fall down the stairs, ultimately to her death. Walter sees everything, but backs Martha up. Sam leaves town.
Fast forward 17 years. Walter and Martha are now married, with Walter the the town D.A. But then Sam comes back into town and the whole mess comes back to haunt them. Stanwyck displays the same ruthless energy that made her a staple of the genre.
3. Forty Guns
Barbara Stanwyck would go on to great success in the TV western The Big Valley. But we got a sneak preview of her excelling in the genre in Forty Guns. Directed by Samuel Fuller, it’s a great hidden western gem. Jessica Drummond (Stanwyck) rules an Arizona territory with an iron fist. But a new marshal arrives in town to set things straight. A fight for control of the territory breaks out. And tough as nails Stanwyck steals the show.
2. Baby Face
Stanwyck holds the distinction of starting in the definitive pre-Code: Baby Face. As Lily Powers, Stanwyck gets a rough start in life thanks to her deadbeat father. She works in his speakeasy, being sexually exploited. When her father dies, she goes to New York. There she uses her feminine wiles to get to the top of a bank. Baby Face is incredibly frank in its discussion/depiction of female sexuality. It’s as powerful now as it was then.
1. Double Indemnity
In a career that spanned decades and covered many genres, the crown jewel of Stanwyck performances came in Double Indemnity. Her Phyllis Dietrichson is the definitive noir femme fatale, using insurance agent Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) to get her husband out of the way while she collects the insurance money and runs off with Walter. Stanwyck is cold blooded, using and then disposing of MacMurray without one minute of remorse. The moment that sold me on her performance is the scene where she has an evil smile on her face while her husband gets killed. When her insurance claim comes under suspicion, she puts on the performance of her life as the grieving widow. Stanwyck’s ability to manipulate and dispose of people is so convincing that it’s positively chilling. There have been a lot of ruthless women in noir. But Stanwyck remains the Queen.
This week for Disneycember I’d like to take you back to 1986. That year Disney released a quirky, fun science-fiction adventure film called Flight of the Navigator. While not at quite the quality of other Disney live-action classics, it’s a piece of 80s nostalgia worth revisiting. Here are five reasons why:
1. The production design and visual effects are really inventive
One of the most striking things about Flight of the Navigator is the imagination of the visuals. The design of the spaceship and the special effects when it takes flight are surprisingly advanced for a kids movie. What makes the movie really pop is the fact that so much of it is done with practical effects: robotics, stop motion animation, etc. The viewer isn’t assaulted with bloated CGI. And that adds to the film’s sense of wonder. Credit Production Designer William J. Creber for bringing the great look together.
2. Joey Cramer is rock solid in the lead role
In a movie like Flight of the Navigator, it’s crucial that the child at the center is credible as we go on such a fantastic journey. Joey Cramer achieves exactly that as protagonist Davey. He’s believable when he wakes up confused at having been missing for several years. He also does something critical to the success of the whole movie: convey bewilderment when he first gets on the ship and then has a real sense of wonder when he takes it for a ride. His performance is so natural it sells the whole thing.
3. The voice of the AI on the ship is done by Pee-Wee Herman
Look, Paul Reubens has become problematic now. But I don’t hold that against Flight of the Navigator. That’s probably because we don’t see Reubens onscreen. He does great voice work as Max, the AI that controls the ship. The dynamic between Max and Davey is surprisingly deep, especially since Max wants to learn more about human emotions.
4. It’s a nice break from the traditional Disney formula
While I do enjoy the Disney animated musicals, I’m also a huge science fiction nerd. Disney doesn’t go in that direction a lot and the results when they do have been mixed. Flight of the Navigator is a success with its rich visuals, right script and strong performances from its cast. It represents a real change of pace, which I find refreshing.
5. It’s fun for the whole family
There are so few films that have enough for kids and adults. Flight of the Navigator is one of those films. Adults will be intrigued by the line between machine and man explored by Max and get a kick out of the rich production design. For kids it’s a great example of wish fulfillment and they’re sure to identify with the character of Davey. There’s something for everyone in this hidden gem from the 80s.
First and foremost, it’s refreshing to have a strong female lead without the feminist part having to be telegraphed. Moana is acknowledged as being the next in line to lead her tribe since she’s the daughter of the village chief.
It’s week two of Disneycember. And this week I’d like to throw some love at Moana. While it came out a few years after Frozen and got lost in the wake of that movie’s popularity, it’s equally worthy of appreciation. In fact, I would argue that it’ssuperior to Frozen. There’s a lot to love about Moana. One of my favorite overall aspects is that its brilliance is subtle. This is a brilliant movie that doesn’t draw attention to what makes it brilliant. Let me explain.
First and foremost, it’s refreshing to see a strong female lead without the feminist aspect having to be telegraphed. Moana is acknowledged as being the next in line to lead her tribe as she is the daughter of the village chief. The script doesn’t make a big deal about it. The audience is just expected to accept that this is a culture where female leaders are common. Moana doesn’t have to pose as a man like Mulan. Not that that makes Mulan a bad movie. I love it too. But Moana is a step forward.
Moana is also a great character because of her grit and determination. When she sets out on her journey, it’s to save her people. This isn’t some stuck in the 50s Disney heroine whose sole purpose is to find and marry a guy she met five minutes ago. Moana is a great reminder that platonic relationships are just as valid as romantic ones. The relationship between Moana and Maui is a great example. The way they start out bickering and then come together for a common goal feels very believable.
Another great part about Moana is the music. The score by Mark Mancina is gorgeous. And Lin-Manuel Miranda, fresh off the success of his Broadway smash Hamilton, delivers songs that are not only catchy and original, but are worthy of the Disney name. Think Let It Go is an empowering song? I raise you How Far I’ll Go. And then there’s the brilliant You’re Welcome. The Rock performing a Disney song wasn’t something I knew I needed until this movie.
Moana has a great visual style, especially in the scenes where Moana goes sailing and when we see Te Fiti. The details in every frame are just lovely to behold. Finally, Moana is subtlety brilliant in the way it handles Moana’s character arc. She doesn’t just go and save her island and her people. She discovers her identity in the process. Part of that process is reconnecting with her family. Aside from the friendship Moana develops with Maui, my favorite relationship is the relationship that develops between Moana and her grandmother. It’s heartbreaking when her grandmother dies. But I love that her grandmother helps her discover who she is and gives her the last push she needs to complete her mission. It’s beautifully written.
While Moana hasn’t gotten the love that Frozen has, it deserves to be embraced. It has a good message, strong visuals and songs you’ll bs humming along to for days. It’s not a showy movie. But it does everything a Disney movie is supposed to do at a very high level. It’s a worthy addition to their catalog of great movies.
December has arrived. So you’ll no doubt see multiple adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol on television between now and December 25th. Which adaptation is the best is a question that often inspires heated debate. Almost every incarnation has its fans. But I would like to settle the debate here and now. Far and away the best version is The Muppet Christmas Carol. Don’t believe me? Here are ten reasons why:
1. It’s a loving tribute to Jim Henson
The Muppet Christmas Carol was the first Muppet movie made after Jim Henson’s passing. The movie is a showcase for the puppeteering technology he pioneered and the wonderful characters he gave audiences. There’s an elegiac quality throughout the film that’s incredibly moving. When Kermit starts talking about life being a series of meetings and partings, it really feels like a eulogy for Henson. The whole movie is a love letter to the man and his creations.
2. Michael Caine is a great Scrooge
Michael Caine might on the surface seem like a curious choice for the role of Scrooge. But he absolutely nails the part, bringing the same gravitas to it that he does to his more serious traditional roles. He’s chillingly cold, invoking fear just from a simple occasional glare and equally convincing in his warmth after the character’s transformation. It’s a much more layered performance than you might expect. His approach of treating the Muppets like the Royal Shakespeare Company seems to have been the right one.
3. The songs are solid
One of the often overlooked elements of The Muppet Christmas Carol is the music. The score by Miles Goodman and lyrics by Paul Williams are catchy and often moving. The introduction song for Scrooge in particular is fantastic, brilliantly establishing the character before we even see him in full view. When Love Is Gone is a divisive one. But I’m in the camp that supports it. The song really gives the character of Scrooge depth. Martina McBride’s cover is excellent as well.
4. Gonzo’s narration is on point
One of the ways this version honors Dickens is by keeping the presence of an omniscient narrator. Gonzo takes on the role, introducing himself to the audience as Dickens. He delivers exposition, which keeps the prose of the original story in tact.
5. It’s a perfect blend of humor and drama
Detractors of The Muppet Christmas Carol often complain that it’s too dark. My response to that is, “have you read the original story recently?” For a story embraces at a happy time like Christmas, it sure is heavy. There are ghosts, death, greed…It’s dark! The Muppet version does a good job balancing the weight of the story with humor, while never undercutting the pathos of the story and its complex characters. One of the strokes of genius is having Gonzo and Rizzo break comment on the story, breaking the fourth of wall. More than once they even acknowledge the weightiness of the story, which helps ease us through the darker parts.
6. It’s a movie marketed to kids that doesn’t talk down to kids
One of the reasons I’ve always loved the Muppets is they always have plenty for kids and adults to enjoy. In tackling A Christmas Carol, there must have been a temptation to cute it up. I’m so glad that didn’t happen. That screenplay honors the Dickens story and embraces the fun of the Muppets. It’s a delicate balancing act that could have gone terribly wrong. This adaptation is made for kids, but it never talks down to them.
7. Marley and Marley is a showstopper
One of the best casting choices in The Muppet Christmas Carol was having the Marley brothers played by Statler and Waldorf. Their musical number that sets up Scrooge’s journey is equal parts exposition and black comedy. It’s a perfect setup for Scrooge being visited by the ghosts and his change of heart.
8. Brian Henson nailed his directorial debut
The Muppet Christmas Carol was the first movie directed by Brian Henson. The pressure to deliver during such a difficult time for Jim Henson Productions had to have been enormous. Henson rose to the occasion and delivered both a great standalone movie and a living tribute to Jim Henson. Kudos to Henson, his cast and crew.
9. Every Muppet gets to shine
The Muppet Christmas Carol is not only a smart screenplay, it’s a generous screenplay. Even if a Muppet has just one line or gets seen in one shot, the audience gets to appreciate them. You can see the attention to detail and brilliance of the puppeteers in every frame.
10. The ending is absolutely beautiful
In some adaptations of A Christmas Carol, the transformation of Scrooge feels rushed or not credible. That’s not the case here. After going on such an emotional ride, that last scene with Scrooge and the Muppets enjoying Christmas dinner together hits right in the feels. That’s a testament to Michael Caine’s performance. If you’re not at least a little emotional at the end, you’re not human.
Noirvember is almost over. But I’ve saved one of the best for last to close out the month. It’s one of the definitive poverty row noir films: Edgar Ulmer’s Detour. Released in 1945, it was made on a shoestring budget. But that didn’t stop it from being one of the grittiest and best examples of the genre.
The plot of Detour is pretty simple. Al Roberts (Tom Neal) is hitchhiking his way to Los Angeles to meet his girl Sue (Claudia Drake). The two met at a nightclub in New York where he was a pianist a she was a singer. Al wanted them to get married. But Sue wanted to break into show business first. On his journey to Los Angeles, Tom gets a ride from Charles Haskell (Edmund MacDonald).
But, in typical noir fashion, things do not go as planned. Haskell unexpectedly dies. Al assumes his identity, presuming, not unreasonably, that the police would not believe the story of how Haskell died. Al keeps driving, and picks up hitchhiker Vera (Ann Savage). Turns out Vera knew Haskell and blackmails Al to be a part of her schemes, which only get him in worse trouble.
Detour is essentially a movie with two people in it. And Neal and Savage are up to the task, creating a believable toxic relationship that leaves the viewer constantly wanting to know what twist the story will take next. Neal is excellent as the hapless protagonist. But the real scene stealer is Ann Savage. Every line comes out of her mouth dripping with venom, making her one of the definitive noir femme fatales. There are quite a few shots where it feels like she’s staring holes right through Neal. Vera is one of the few femme fatales that could give Stanwyck‘s Phyllis Dietrichson a run for her money.
Detour is a definitive noir because of its sharp dialogue, strong performances and its gritty look. One of my favorite shots is at the beginning where Al starts telling his story in flashback from the counter of a diner. It’s a closeup of Neal’s face shrouded in shadow. The combination of lighting, shadow and morose look on Neal’s face perfectly sets the tone for everything that follows. Cinematographer Benjamin H. Kline really is a supporting character of the film in a way, flawlessly establishing the gritty tone and somber mood of the story. Detour runs only 68 minutes. But not one minute of it is wasted. It’s a triumph of low-budget filmmaking that every noir fan needs to see at least once.
This week’s featured noir is Lured. It has taken me a few viewings to fully appreciate it. It’s not a bad movie by any means. But it takes a few viewings to get used to Lucille Ball in the world of noir. But the genre actually suits her quite well. And, to be honest, I wish she had gotten more quality dramatic roles like Sandra Carpenter. We were robbed of another layer of her talent.
In Lured, Ball plays Sandra Carpenter. She’s an American woman who goes to London to be in a show, but ends up working as a taxi dancer. Adding insult to injury, her friend and fellow dancer Lucy (Tanis Chandler) has gone missing. It is believed that Lucy is the latest victim of the Poet Killer, who lures victims to their deaths through personal ads in the newspaper. After he kills his victims, he sends the police poems to taunt them.
Sandra is talked into going undercover to find her friend and catch the killer by Inspector Temple (Charles Coburn). She responds to personal ads and meets a fascinating parade of characters, including stage revue producer Robert Fleming (George Sanders) has former fashion designer Charles van Druten (Boris Karloff).
Since Lured was directed by Douglas Sirk, you know there’s going to be some juicy melodrama. And the movie does not disappoint. Sandra and Robert eventually fall in love. And then Robert is suspected to be the killer. The twist ending I will not reveal. But I did not see it coming at all! Just when you think the movie is done, it finds another way to top itself.
The cast and director of Lured seem like unlikely people to be associated with noir (save for George Sanders who could playing a charming cad better than anyone). But all the parts come together for a surprisingly compelling whodunnit.
Lucille Ball stands out in a cast rich with talented actors. This to me is her best performance. She shines in material you don’t expect her to. Lured took me completely by surprise for exactly that reason the first time I saw it. And I’ve kept coming back to it multiple times since. I hope if you haven’t seen it, you’ll give it a look. And if you have seen it, I encourage you to revisit it. It’s a real hidden gem of noir.
The classic era of film-noir was dominated by male directors. But one was directed by a woman and did it ever pack a punch? The film was The Hitch-Hiker. The director? Ida Lupino. Lupino worked as both a director and actress, excelling at both. And she was only the second woman to be admitted into the Director’s Guild of America. Lupino was ahead of her time in many respects.
The Hitch-Hiker has a simply premise. Two fisherman (Edmond O’ Brien and Frank Lovejoy) pickup a stranded motorist a ride on their way to a fishing trip. The motorist turns out to be escaped convict Emmett Myers (William Talman). He makes them drive at gunpoint and tells the Good Samaritans that he intends to kill them when the ride is over.
The Hitch-Hiker runs just 71 minutes, but doesn’t have a single moment that lacks tension and intrigue. Much of the power of the film comes from the chilling performance by William Talman. Those who only know him from his role on Perry Mason will be shocked to their core. I know I was. Talman is perfectly cold and calculating. This isn’t some over the top, cartoonish villain. Myers is terrifying because he just seems so real. The story was based on the real life incident of Billy Cook that happened in California in 1950.
Another ingredient essential for the films success is cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca. The way he using light and shadows, especially during the car scenes, is very effective. The first time we see Myers’ face is downright chilling. Musuraca also photographed Out of the Past, The Blue Gardenia and Clash By Night. He was one of the great cinematographers of the classic noir era.
Ida Lupino brings this all together and delivers a taut thriller in the process. Her minimalist approach works perfectly for the material. There isn’t a lot of extraneous backstory of the villain and we learn just enough to care about his victims. By not giving Myers a complex backstory, Lupino makes him more terrifying. He seems like a person anyone could pickup anywhere. Evil is all around us. That’s the scary part.
The Hitch-Hiker is a short and sweet noir. It’s one of many reasons I get exasperated at people in horror movies who pickup hitchhikers. Ida Lupino didn’t direct a lot of movies. But the few she did were powerful. She was force in front of the camera and behind it.
If like me you’re a little down with Halloween having come and gone and if you’re not ready for the onslaught of sickeningly sweet Christmas movies, then Noirvember is for you! This month I’ll be highlighting some of my favorite noir films. Some will be classic noir and others will be neo-noir. Hopefully if you’re already a noirista you’ll find something to either revisit or check out for the first time. If you’re new to noir, I hope you’ll give it a chance. It’s one of the most fascinating worlds of cinema you will ever experience.
To begin this month’s noir celebration, I will be covering a film that fits into a sub genre called tech noir: a blend of science fiction and film noir, which happen to be two of my favorite things. The movie is Minority Report. It’s hard to imagine a Steven Spielberg movie being underrated. But I really think this one is.
Set in the year 2054 in Washington, D.C., Minority Report exists in a world devoid of murder. How? Because the police are now able to catch criminals before they commit crimes. This is possible thanks to a new special police unit called PreCrime. Three special people known as Pre-Cogs have the unique ability to see into the future and predict crimes beforehand. The criminals are then apprehended before the crimes are committed.
Leading the PreCrime Police Department is Chief John Anderton (Tom Cruise). He’s convinced that PreCrime is a perfect system. So, in noir fashion, the system is manipulated to implicate him in a murder. Anderton is forced to go on the run and find out who set him up. As Anderton peels back the layers of the conspiracy against him, we are treated to a gritty/believable futuristic world where, among other things, billboards address you by name and newspapers update themselves as you’re reading them.
Part of what makes Minority Report great is that it shows us a very high-tech world and there’s a lot of exhilarating action, but it always services the plot. A lesser movie would have prioritized the special effects and given short shrift to the complex parts of the plot. Minority Report is a great action movie to be sure. But this is an action movie not shy about exploring moral dilemmas and exploring challenging ideas. The very concept of PreCrime raises a lot of ethical questions. And the screenplay openly addresses them.
Another thing that sets Minority Report apart is that Steven Spielberg is just as interested in the human element of the story as giving us exciting chase scenes. For example, John Anderton’s backstory is handled in a perfectly delicate way. He’s not a one-note action hero. And there’s a great supporting performance by Samantha Morton as one of the Pre-Cogs who helps Anderton unravel the mystery. The characters here are all richly drawn and acted.
Minority Report has a lot of ideas worth exploring. You’ll likely be discussing them long after the credits roll. Credit to Phillip K. Dick, author of the original story, and screenwriters Scott Frank and Jon Cohen. This is a first rate action movie, tech noir and character study. It’s another winner from Steven Spielberg.