June 23, 2009

A Proper Defense of Minority Report

A lot of readers are busting my chops for stating that Minority Report ("MR") is the best Spielberg film. To clarify, I wasn’t trying to bad mouth the Color Purple or Schindler’s List or any of his other classics (the “Spielberg Classics”). I love a lot of Spielberg’s movie, so that’s not an issue. Also, the "best" is a term of art. My definition will probably differ from yours, but I consider a film to be the "best" when it's technically flawless and substantively engaging (a dope plot).

From a technical standpoint, Spielberg is operating at the highest level. I don’t think anyone has a problem with the editing, cinematography, or direction of MR. It moves like a fast paced novel, and he doesn’t waste any frames. It’s fluid, succinct, and visually stunning. (Note: Spielberg generally works with the same production team).

Perhaps MR is not culturally “important” as the Spielberg Classics. Maybe, but I think that response is weak. Who determines what films are “important”? Is it solely contingent on the substance of the plot? The impact? Box office numbers? There is no set standard in determining what films are more important. It isn't objective. If this criticism had any weight, there would need to be an objective standard in determining the "cultural importance" of a film. I don't think that standard exist, hence I'm convinced by this line of reasoning.

Someone might interject, and argue that MR did not deal with a substantive historical issue like some of the Spielberg Classics, and I’d disagree with that too. MR attempted to tackle an important philosophical issue. The freewill/determinism debate has gone on for centuries, so it’s erroneous to play down the magnitude of its importance. I might also add that it's one of the key reasons people decide to dismiss religion, which has led to much strife between the believers and non-believers. Yes, race issues and the Holocaust are important issues, but they aren’t by default the most important. Moreover, the significance of an issue will change depending on the person. So, if you are more interested with philosophy in film, then a movie like MR will resonate more with you.

Maybe one will argue that the acting in MR wasn’t on par with the Spielberg Classics. Maybe. Who determines that? Is there some sort of scale that we can place performances on to determine the best one? Personally, I thought the acting in MR was brilliant. Tom Cruise was at his best (probably gave a better performance in Magnolia). Colin Farrell also gave one of his better performances. Max Von Sydow was the true gem of the film. (and Samantha Morton is brilliant as Agatha - Thanks Fred).

What arguments are left? Realistically, the burden of proof is not on me. Unless there is some objective way to determine what films are the best, then most arguments don’t hold weight. I’m not saying The Mask 2 is better than The Spielberg Classics. I’m arguing that MR is his best film because it appeals to me more so than any of his other films. I’m not arguing that MR is of a better production quality (It’s the same group of dudes), but that philosophically it was more interesting.

Some people like Amnesiac more than OK Computer. I'm one of those people . . .


  1. I wouldn't personlly call MR the best Spielberg film, but it is one that is greatly undervalued. I agree definitely with the philosophical angle the film takes along with providing a lot on the action. Some people made similar arguments with The Dark Knight, and how Nolan not only made a great action film but commented on current issues dealing with contemporary politics. There is room for both action and deep thought in a film.

    I do think there's a tendency for people to automaticaly think that when Spielberg is doing action, then the film can't be on par with the serious subjects of his other great films. I am going to say that I think Schindler's List and Munich are better, because the issues they tackle are deeper IMO, but will also say MR was unfairly passed over and has criminally not aged well.

  2. Dear Keith,

    thank you for posting this in depth analysis.

    I too believe Minority Report is one of Spielberg's best, if not his best (together with Schindler's List). Not only do I hope you've opened people's eyes with your post, but I hope people (or maybe just the haters) will judge this film differently from now on. It isn like you said, well paced, engaging (might I add thought provoking), has an impeccable production design (finally, a future that looks plausible) and has a lot of praiseworthy performances (von Sydow, Farrell and Cruise are indeed admirable in his film, though I think Cruise is even better in "Eyes Wide Shut", still a great performance, PS. where's Samantha Morton in all of this ? :) )

    So yeah, don't worry Keith, you're not the only fan of Minorty Report


  3. Keith, I really respect that you go out and say that MR is your favorite Spielberg film some people will like claim its something more well liked but in reality dont believe so. So I really respect that and agree that its wrong for people to judge if you dont think something obvious like Schindler's List is his best film...I find it very annoying when people feel for a film to be like in your top list or whatever it must be "culturally important" or whatever. Personally I think MR is overrated, a good not great film. Haha also I want to say that sorry you're wrong that anyone has a problem with the cinematography I think it looks unnaturally metallic and blueish haha but I really enjoyed reading this analysis.


  4. Good analysis but...

    Amnesiac over OK Computer? Blasphemy.

    Just kidding

    I personally think I'm a Kid A fan myself...

  5. Also...don't you think that maybe your argument would be more suited as to MR being your favorite Spielberg film as opposed to best?

    there is a difference.

    You stated that "MR is his best film because it appeals to me more so than any of his other films"--doesn't that statement qualify MR as your favorite Spielberg film rather than best?

    Just something worth pointing out.

    Still love your analysis though!

  6. Thanks guys for providing some great insight.

    You all make really great points, so I think it's my duty to respond to each one.

    Josh - People do have a tendency to mis categorize Spielberg's film. He tends to raise important questions in all of his films. What's great about Spielberg is that he's a versatile director, so he's able to raise important question in different venues. He's no one trick pony. Of course, I disagree that it didn't age well. I don't know how you define "aged well", so I won't be able to explore that criticism any further.

    Fred - I totally agree. How could I forget Agatha! S Morton is a phenomenal actress. Thanks for strengthening my point about the acting.

    Andrew - I respect that you respect my analysis. Often times, when we make statements without justification, we're quickly crucified. It isn't common to assert that MR is Spielberg's "best" film. I don't know if objectively it's his best film, but from my personal perspective, I prefer it over the others.

    David -

    1. I appreciate all of Radiohead's ablums (even Pablo Honey). Amnesiac is trippy, unconventional, and unlike anything I ever heard. OK Computer and Kid A are excellent, but Amnesiac is a more challenging album (IMO).

    2. I have a different conception of the term "best". It's almost analogous to the term "favorite". However, I have a two prong test when I analyze what movies I consider the "best". It has to appeal to me philosophically and have top quality production (editing, etc.). Honestly, if you put 100 people in one room, and asked them what's Spielberg's best movie, I'm confident you would get a variety of answers. In essence, it's my favorite film for reasons X, Y, Z, and because of those reasons I think it's his best film. That seems unsettling because we are moving away from an objective view of the term "best" to a rather subjective one. But, if we use more objective reasons (such as the production of a film), then we can keep it from being entirely subjective . . . I hope that makes a little sense.

    Thanks again for reading! I'm not trying to convince you that it's his best film. I think we are all sophisticated enough to form our own opinions. However, I am against people dismissing an opinion because it's not a commonly held belief.

  7. Kid A all the way!

  8. Keith, by "aged well", I mean that the film feels like it's a movie that has come out right after 9/11. Jumping to conclusions about people without too much of a second thought based on your background was a mindset that was really present around that time. The culture has changed a bit since then (the degree of change depends on the person you ask). Some of MR's themes feel like they're stuck in 2002. The movie might also just be forgotten because of its release proximity to AI (can't stick up for that one, lol).

  9. Josh -

    I see. I had this debate with a friend regarding the phrase "aged well". I typically believe that how well a film ages is mostly contingent on the person. As you probably figured out by now, a lot of my arguments rest on the assumption that most of what we define will normally be based in subjectivity.

    Also, one of the major themes explored in MR dealt with institional control, and the lack of freedom. It may have been more salient 8 years ago, but it still exist as a problem. We will always be up and arms about our government. During war time, the issue becomes more relevant. Yet, even during an economic downturn, we must keep these thoughts in mind (see the Government taking over major financial institutions and the auto industry). If I recall correctly, figures like Hitler and Il Duce rose to power in part because of their countries failing powers. Point being, the issues raised in MR are always worth discussing and keeping in mind. I can almost guarantee that if you show MR, it will consistently spark conversation and intrigue people. I've seen the movie over 8 times, and it never fails to please me. Maybe I'm just weird lol.

  10. i also tend to intermix best and favorite in personal lists, though I try to seperate them in a more objective article, or at least preface things...that being said, there's nothing wrong with preferring Minority Report...Schindler's List is not a perfect film, no film is

  11. I'll just say this topic has spawned really interesting debate. Thanks Keith.

  12. I consciously decided to blend the two. In essence, I've seperated subjective 'best' w/ objective 'best'. I'm of the camp that believes there is no objective 'best'. I've thought long about this, and I'm not convinced (yet) that art can be completely measure by an objective standard. That's not to say that there is no objective standard. We can look at the production quality for example. However, I don't think we can interpret art completely detached from our personal taste.

    How does one distinguish Tyler Perry flicks from Citizen Kane? There's a method, but how much of that method is objective. Subjective?

  13. Thanks Josh! I'm glad we have readers that are as interesting in these ideas as our writers are . . .

  14. Keith-

    I completely understand your points. I also think its interesting that we're discussing this topic (best v. favorite) seeing as not only is it a topic about opinion, but we're sharing our opinions about an opinion...that was a little bit less confusing when it was in my head.

    To me a movie that is your "favorite" movie would be the answer to that "if you were stuck on deserted island" question. It has basically one factor that seperates it from the "best" movie. It will allow flaws.

    Now to me a film like The Godfather could reasonably be pointed to as one of the "best" films of all time. But would I want to be stuck on a desserted island with it...ehhhh probably not.

    Films like Slumdog Millionaire, The Motorcycle Diaries, or Raiders of the Lost Ark (a Spielberg film that I am amazed nobody has brought up in this discussion) are more likely to me to be chosen as the answer to that question. I understand that these films may have their flaws--i might argue with you that flaws don't necessarily matter with every film--but regardless I LOVE these films. I would say that these would be some of my favorite films.

    I love this discussion by the way...

    However, like i stated earlier, we are discussing our opinions about a subject that is based on an opinion so we pretty much will just go around in circles.

    PS. I also LOVE The Godfather I was merely using it as an example for my point.

    PPS. I just want to also say that I was stoked that you thought Children of Men should have been nominated for Best Picture as I thought it was one of the better films of the decade--and in no way is it targeted towards women as your co-host implied. I saw it with a group of people and all the guys loved it and my fiance was the only woman in the group who loved it as well. All the others couldnt get into it. To each his or her own I guess.

  15. David -

    I want to agree that the Godfather is one of the "best" movies, but intellectualy that doesn't settle anything. We will probably go in circles, but what makes the Godfather the "best" movie. Again, how do we conceptually seperate the Godfather from Godzilla? It's not enough to just state it w/ emphasis.

    There has to be more of a justification.

    I'll offer up my theory in an article. I've been thinking about this issue for about two years now. I think I have an intellectually satisfying answer, but I'll let you guys give it look once I'm done.

    I appreciate your interest.

  16. agreed, it's a nice conversation going on here