Monday, July 30, 2012

The 20 Best Movies of 2012 So Far

2012 is turning out to be a huge year for movies - and at little more than halfway through there have been some great commercial blockbusters and indie gems. It is futile to include The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers in a 'best of' list, because they don't need validation at this point, everyone loved them. 

Naturally, I haven't seen many films that have released this year, so here are the 20 best of the ones that I have.

20 - Sleep Tight

'REC' director Jaume Balaguero forgoes the blood and constant dread of the zombie movies for a chilling Spanish thriller about a hotel concierge who isn't as demure as he looks. Luis Tosar is excellent as the sad faced loner with a creepy disability, and Balaguero even manages to get the audience to sympathize with his proantagonist.

19 - Take this Waltz

Michelle Williams stars in yet another heart wrenching story of doomed marriage and the frailty of a relationship. Also starring Seth Rogen, director Sarah Polley takes us through the most devastating couple seen on screen since Blue Valentine. 

18 - Elles

Starring Juliet Binoche, Elles is a distressing story of a French reporter who discovers a bunch of girls who pay for their college fees by prostituting themselves. A self indulgent film, no doubt, but one that doesn't pass judgement to drive its point.

17 - The Day He Arrives

A thoroughly mesmerizing Korean film about a has-been filmmaker who arrives in Seoul to meet his friend for drinks and loses himself in a strange warped Groundhog Day. Director Sang Soo Hong revisits the theme of a filmmaker with midlife crisis from his 2008 movie Night and Day. Although a big recco for movie buffs, this is a must watch for those who make movies.

16 - Marley

Having made One day in September and Life in a Day, director Kevin Macdonald was the perfect choice for the biopic of the legendary Rastafarian. Marley is perhaps the best retelling of Bob Marley's life we'll ever see. Macdonald mixes some fascinating footage with Marley's classic hits and delivers an extremely comprehensive account that is enough to drive fans crazy in emotion.

15 - The Dictator

This year's guilty pleasures are courtesy of Sascha Baron Cohen who plays a tongue-in-cheek version of Gaddafi in America. The Dictator is as funny as Borat and is a proper feature with a 'plot' instead of a mere mockumentary. Cohen makes sure he targets all kinds of audiences and offends them as much as possible, but what makes it work is that he does it without being smarmy.

14 - Chronicle

Chronicle was the biggest surprise of the year as first-time director Josh Trank combined intricate handheld live-action camerawork with CGI wizardry to stunning effect in this found footage superhero thriller.

13 - This is not a film

Jafar Panahi has been put under house arrest and banned by the Iranian govt from making movies. To be shown to the rest of the world, This is not a film was smuggled out of his house hidden inside a cake. The footage contains Panahi's account of a film that he wishes to make and is a heartbreaking political statement against the dictatorial Iranian government, one that echoes last year's No one knows about Persian cats.

12 - 21 Jump Street

Cloudy with a chance of meatballs directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller make dick jokes funny in this hysterical movie version of the hit series. 21 Jump Street is buddy cop comedy done right with the perfectly cast Hill and Tatum for non-stop gut busting gags; what's more, it even parodies its own genre.

11 - Snabba Cash

Snabba Cash is Snabba Entertainment, and a cooler Swedish version of a Pusher style mafia thriller. Starring Joel Kinnaman (the new Robocop) and a vast array of characters, the film packs enough smarts to shame recent Hollywood gangster movies. A sequel is slated to release next year. 

10 - Supermen of Malegaon

In an industry ruled by the Khans and Kumars director Faiza Ahmad's docu is a fresh breath of air. Clocking in at just over an hour, Supermen of Malegaon is fascinating and often funny, plus it avoids sentimentality and all the cliches found in most documentaries.

9 - Gangs of Wasseypur

Currently the best Indian film of the year, Anurag Kashyap's Gangs of Wasseypur is a visceral epic with glorious characters and gently mocking dialogue. Part two releases in a few days and it remains to be seen if it matches the quality of its predecessor. 

8 - The Loved Ones

An absolutely bloody and shocking thriller from Australia, The Loved Ones is currently the best horror movie of the year. The 2009 film arrived late to our shores; it has enough squirmy thrills to satisfy the die hardest fans of Martyrs. Robin McLeavy is great as a batshit crazy school girl who kidnaps her crush after he refuses to go to prom with her.

7 - Polisse

The French film Polisse is the feel bad movie of the year and contains no redemption or hope. Director Maiwenn emerges as the Kathryn Bigelow of France after stepping out of the shadow of her ex husband Luc Besson and delivering an unsettling story of a Child Protection Unit. The powerhouse acting ensemble is so good that at some moments you forget that these are actors.

6 - A Monster in Paris

The feel good film of the year is a French cartoon that contains some of the most exquisite animation ever put on screen. Director Bibo Bergeron crafts a smart, funny, quirky comedy that gets better and better as it plays and even contains a couple of fun song and dance numbers.

5 - Sleepless Night

Starring Tomer Sisley, this french action thriller is set almost entirely inside a nightclub. The single location with flickering lights and pulsating music of the discotheque makes for a very claustrophobic atmosphere, and combined with wall to wall action it simply becomes an insanely gripping watch.

4 - The Raid

A 100 minutes of non stop cyclonic mayhem, The Raid: Redemption is not one of the better action films of the past few years, it is one of the best action movies ever made. Indonesian star Iko Uwais using his bare hands slices, dices, stabs, jackhammers through scores and scores of ruffians with the ease of a ballet dancer, and director Gareth Evans' camera lingers around for long, uncut shots.

3 - Indie Game: The Movie

You've heard of indie films and their struggle, but have you heard of indie video games? Indie Game The Movie is a beguiling spotlight on the people who refuse to join the big companies or submit to the commercial consumers. Directors Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky chronicle the lives of three sets of indie game developers who give up everything to create smart, innovative games at a hundredth of the budget of mainstream franchises. It is a story that has never been told before, and is without a doubt the best docu of the year so far - its big achievement is that it appeals to people who don't even play video games.

2 - Cabin in the Woods

Written by Geek God Joss Whedon and Cloverfield's Drew Goddard, Cabin the the Woods is twisted, unique and endlessly fascinating to sit through. The two deliberately mix horror movie clichés with darkly absurd genre dissection and ultimately dole out a modern masterpiece.

1 - Beyond the Black Rainbow

This year's WTF Genre Champion is director Panos Costamos dark, brilliantly trippy, crazy as hell pastiche of THX 1138, Scanners, Eraserhead, Blue Sunshine and 80's Russia and Kubrick. Beyond the Black Rainbow stars Eva Allen as a patient in a strange institution interrogated by an even weirder doctor, and it eventually turns into a horror movie. If the imagery in this film is anything to go by, we can expect some very imaginative films in the future from Cosmatos.      

Honorable Mentions: Haywire, God Bless America, Rec 3: Genesis, Penumbra.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Movie Review: Ice Age Continental Drift

There are sequels, then there are cash grabs, then there are fifty feet of direct-to-DVD spinoffs, then there is Ice Age: Continental Drift 3D. The franchise already showed signs of being soggy in part three but now rears its fungus-coated head in its entirety in this fourquel.

The quiet charm that made the first Ice Age movie a fun novelty has given way to loud over the top tomfoolery. Though slapstick can still be funny, Ice Age: Continental Drift 3D doesn’t have enough original comedy to keep things interesting, it’s almost as if writers Michael Berg, Jason Fuchs and Mike Reiss were tasked with doling out visual gags for television commercials. Most of the one liners are stale and the story seems to have been dictated by studio execs worried about audiences of all ages – thrown in is a joke for moms, one for dads, one for kids, one for teens, one for the pop culture and so forth. It’s rather frustrating because 2002’s Ice Age was originally made as a cure to the clichéd storytelling that had festered in Hollywood. 

The story reeks of typical Hollywood corporate pressure, in Ice Age Continental Drift our friends the wooly mammoth Manny (Ray Romano), the saber toothed tiger Diego (Denis Leary) and sloth Sid (John Leguizamo) face the biggest challenge of them all – being separated from the herd on a floating ice raft and encountering the end of the ice age. Once again the bloke unknowingly responsible for all this is Scrat the squirrel who is still obsessed with his acorn. Manny, Diego and Sid are left to face huge waves, quakes, and a certain gorilla pirate named Captain Gutt (Peter Dinklage) whose first mate Shira (Jennifer Lopez) falls for Diego. It sounds familiar, because it is. 

Continental Drift also has a long drawn subplot of Manny’s family struggling against Mother Nature but only Scrat’s sections of discovering a treasure map holds one’s interest. The funniest bit is a badger who doubles as the ship’s pirate flag, but most terrible is pop sensation Nicki Minaj who voices a mean-gurl mammoth and makes your ears bleed out of exhaustion. And after the 30th character pops up with his own pop culture joke, one begins to long for a quiet, less bloated spinoff film featuring Scrat and his acorn. The most promising part of Ice Age Continental Drift is its gorgeous animation, but it is sadly complemented by largely unnecessary 3D. There are plenty of coming-at-ya 3D gags but they all feel as contrived as the sentimental life lessons in the film. 

Like the meltdown in part three, the Ice Age franchise is now bereft of groundwork and laughs. Though that won’t exactly make the characters extinct, it’s only a matter of time until we get part five.

(First published in MiD Day)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises: Plot Holes, Inconsistencies and Theories

The Dark Knight Rises was a hell of an entertaining movie, and Nolan did deliver on the massive expectations. Of course all mammoth movies inevitably come with a few inconsistencies and Nolan’s especially are packed with double enterdres. What follows are spoilers, and those who haven’t seen the film yet are advised to close this tab right now. 

The big finale, though epic in scale was straight out of Iron Giant (and it was much more heartbreaking in that movie). Even last year’s Captain America had a similar climax where the hero flies a bomb away to save lives and sacrifice himself. But there is another aspect of the ending that interests me more:

1) Was the scene at the restaurant a dream or reality? 

All his life, Alfred has wished to see Bruce Wayne chilling out at the restaurant with a wife and family, and suddenly his wish seems to have been fulfilled. Bruce is seen having drinks with Selina, and has survived the nuclear  blast after all. 

It makes more sense that Alfred imagined this scene, because he never gave Bruce the name or the address of the restaurant, yet he appears in the exact same seat at the exact same time that Alfred expects him to be in. 

If it wasn’t a dream, and Alfred actually went to meet Bruce, it brings me to the next question:

2) How did Batman survive the Nuclear Blast?

We’re shown that Bruce had fixed the autopilot on The Bat. Note that when Batman hooks up the bomb to the vehicle, he flies really low. Why? Presumably to engage autopilot and get off the vehicle and onto a building terrace. We never see the cockpit when The Bat goes out into the sea, right before the blast all we're shown is a closeup of Batman's face. And if that was indeed a shot of the cockpit, there was no chance that Bruce would've survived the blast, since he was right above the bomb.

In any case, disbelief has to be suspended here, because the nuclear bomb 6 miles away should’ve incinerated everyone on the coast of Gotham, and resulted in devastating nuclear radiations in the months to come. Yet no one is injured and Gotham is safe. Batman is alive and Robin becomes the new.. err.. Batman.

Which brings me to the most difficult query of them all:

3) Why does the Batman need to stage his own death??

Batman has just saved Gotham, now everyone in Gotham knows that Batman is the hero, and criminals would now be forever afraid to him. So why does he need to destroy himself?

And why does Bruce Wayne need to stage his own death? To escape corporate life and lawsuits involving fraudulent shares and unending court cases over reclamation of his own enterprise? It just doesn’t gel, because both Bruce and the Batman are heroes, and it only solidifies the theory of Alfred imagining Bruce alive.  

4) How the fuck does Batman travel from Jodhpur to Gotham?

After breaking Batman’s back, Bane takes a trip from Gotham to an unknown medieval location and dumps Bruce Wayne in the Lazarus Pit. A chiropractor snaps his spinal cord back in place, and Bruce exercises like Hrithik Roshan in Mission Kashmir, and heroically Rises out of the pit. We then see Bruce miraculously appearing in Gotham and hitting on Catwoman. 

How the heck did he travel from the 'Jodhpur-location' desert to a snowy Gotham? A desert and a snowy region are never walkable distance from each other so it is unlikely that Bruce just walked back to Gotham. Even if both regions exist next to each other in a comic book universe where anything goes, Gotham was under freaking siege, and was completely cut off from the outside world. All the bridges except one heavily guarded one were destroyed. Even the army couldn’t get in Gotham, but Bruce just waltzes in, goes home, shaves, wears a new suit and meets Selina.

You may argue that this is a movie, a comic book movie at that, but this is a major plot hole considering Nolan’s persistence on grounding the Batman films to the real world. I should also mention that Bruce, when he returns to Gotham, also somehow finds time to gather equipment and explosions and climb the top of a bridge to make the awesome Bat logo. He also has not yet met anyone, but seems to telepathically know the amount of time left for the bomb to explode.

The best answer, of course, is HE IS MOTHERFUCKING BATMAN. That’s how he reached Gotham, okay? Moving on..

5) Is The Dark Knight Rises a worthy ending to the trilogy?

While still an incredible movie and thoroughly satisfying, The Dark Knight Rises would’ve been an utter classic had Nolan not shown Bruce Wayne alive, and had just cut to black (or to Robin in the Batcave) after Alfred breaks the fourth wall with a startled look on his face. Like the tiny wobble of the spinning top in Inception.

Speaking of which, the entire trilogy could well have been a part of the Inception universe. Bruce Wayne, the owner of a big corporation might have been incepted at the behest of Saito. In the first level he is given an idea to become more than a man, in the second level he is strategically fed guilt, in the third he is successfully convinced to make a silly decision and give up his corporation. Arthur the point man, Eames the forger, Saito the employer are all present, so is Mal. 

Are the above really plot holes? Or are they easily explained? You now have my permission to send in your theories/arguments in the comments below.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

How do you make a sequel to one of the greatest movies ever made? How do you escape the Cinema Threequel Curse? How do you meet the expectations of millions and millions of fans who want something better than stuff that’s already perfect? The White Knight of Hollywood Chris Nolan takes all these questions, wraps them around an atom bomb and punches the trigger.

In the four years since 2008's The Dark Knight the fandom for Nolan’s Batman trilogy has grown to astronomical levels - you’d have to live on a different planet to not be familiar with these films. Nolan’s lavishness in imagination and passion for real emotions has made the first two parts transcend from mere films to spiritual experiences. The Dark Knight Rises is also not just a movie, it’s a moviemaking miracle and a buffet of eyeball orgasms – one that contains enough visceral thrills and proof of Chris Nolan well and truly rising as the superhero of the greedy movie industry. Not only did he reject 3D because he didn’t want to shoot in a format just to charge people more, but he also shot almost half the runtime of the movie in groundbreaking, spectacular IMAX. There are plenty of big action scenes and excellent character moments, and it makes for a sprawling epic in every possible way, the darkest, most complex segment of Nolan’s Batman trilogy. 

If Batman Begins was a surprisingly serious and smart, no BS gritty opener and The Dark Knight was an extraordinary sequel of Godfatheresque levels, then The Dark Knight Rises improves in ambition upon the latter. The whole thing is so bombastic and behemoth in scale that every minute of it continually breaks the trilogy curse. In fact the stakes in The Dark Knight Rises are high enough to make its predecessors look quaint in comparison. 

The first two movies were character and technical triumphs on their own, but it is obvious that Nolan was saving all the goodies for last. The Dark Knight Rises just obliterates the bar with the gritty physical effects sprinkled with CGI. If The Dark Knight had an overturning truck, this one has a whole damn flying bat and exploding bridges. The effects are so realistic it’s impossible to make out between real and CGI, and they are seamlessly woven into the sweeping exhilaration of Wally Pfister’s cinematography. All doubts over Nolan not being a great action director are dispelled as the quick-cutting fight scenes from Batman Begins make way for long, uncut, brightly lit brawls between Batman and Bane and even spectacular large-scale chase sequences. The big prologue involving Bane has to be seen on the largest IMAX screen to be believed. 

It is in your best interest that you keep away from the story details before watching the film – know that the plot takes eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, and Bruce Wayne (Bale) has turned into a recluse, as the villainous Bane (Tom Hardy) not-so-silently plots an apocalypse. The film moves at a breakneck pace and eventually becomes sort of a Die Hard With a Vengeance with gigantic dosages of amphetamine, grit and pizzazz. 

At a mammoth two hours forty five minutes The Dark Knight Rises tends to have a slightly bloated middle section. In creating the biggest superhero blockbuster of all time, rough edges are inevitable, and editor Lee Smith is guilty as charged. The film shifts to a cave under the sands of Jodhpur and fast forwards three months without much consistency, and certain story threads just disappear leaving a couple of plot holes and unnecessary characters. These setbacks are mildly jarring but never catastrophic, because The Dark Knight Rises is an immersive experience. Over the next few weeks I foresee complaints along the lines of Bane not being as awesome a villain as Heath Ledger as the Joker, but that complaint becomes irrelevant, because no one can possibly be as awesome as the latter. The few flaws and an obvious plot twist never weigh down on the film. One never loses interest or gets confused, unlike the case in the Matrix, Star Wars and so many other threequels that are made with haughtiness and contempt for their audience. To make up for the choppy middle section, the third act of The Dark Knight Rises is basically an hour long post-apocalyptic action set piece and is one hell of a rousing stretch of eye and ear candy. It’s not just noise and fire, it is narrative coherence and a progression to an utterly fantastic finale that smashes your mind to smithereens.  

The recurring cast including Gary Oldman holds a more poignant resonance this time around, and Bale is particularly excellent as the tormented superhero. The pain, frustration and fear Wayne feels in losing everything in life is intimately felt by us, as is the strength he finds in himself to eventually Rise. Michael Caine is unforgettably haunting as the distraught butler seeing his surrogate son fall, radiating warmth and helplessness towards Wayne. Anne Hathaway isn’t as sexy as she is oddly endearing as the Catwoman, but Joseph Gordon Levitt is great as a Gotham cop. Bane may not be The Joker, but Tom Hardy does all he can to emote with his face covered - and in one incendiary scene after another mouths some cold, mechanical lines between reducing the Batman to pulp. The only real problem is that Bane’s voice is still not completely audible, and watching the movie in a theater that doesn’t have very high quality speakers will make Bane almost entirely incomprehensible. But even in the lowest quality speakers, Hans Zimmer’s music is guaranteed to blow you away. 

Even with its ginormous set pieces, monstrous scope and SFX, The Dark Knight Rises separates itself from other blockbusters because it rarely loses sight of its humanity and its mission to meet insane expectations. It’s outstanding entertainment, a victory of mad passion and cinematic artistry, with a sly final payoff that gives you goosebumps and leaves you desperately drooling for even more. 

(First published in MiD Day)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Review: The Untitled Kartik Krishnan Project

This might be a review of a review of a review, because it is a review of a movie about a movie about a movie. One can never be sure, because director Srinivas Sunderrajan with his micro budget has crafted a surreal and intricate enough movie to make you reach out for your chin and gleefully wallow in your doubts. 

The Untitled Kartik Krishnan Project is a meta film that makes for delicious fodder for people who love and/or make cinema. The titular Kartik Krishnan stars as a software engineer who trawls the (now defunct) website PassionForCinema and is in awe of a certain Srinivas who has put up a blog post on the site about meeting Quentin Tarantino. Kartik meets Srinivas and asks him to direct his script, the latter agrees much to the delight of the former, but little does Kartik know that there are invisible forces at work around him. As he starts writing his script he realizes that nothing is as it seems, and the movie takes a bizarrely edgy detour into a certain Coen Brothers 90’s movie. 

Kartik is besotted with his office colleague Swara (Swara Bhaskar) and begins to hallucinate her Black Swan avatar hanging around him. He is also greeted by a contract-carrying antagonistic man in Ray Bans every time he begins to write. Hard boiled film buffs will likely figure out what Kartik is going through soon enough, but it’s hard not to love the third act and its audacious final twist. The film's clever plot and treatment is nicely complemented by Hashim Badani’s slick black and white cinematography and Sujil Sukumaran’s minimalistic electronic score. The actors, barring Swara Bhaskar don’t leave much of an impression, but after digesting the climax one begins to wonder if that was the point. The film clocks in at a swift 70 minutes, and in the end none of its drawbacks matter seeing as the effort is so brave and so far ahead of anything Bollywood has come up with this year.

In an industry where star power, talent, egos, libidos and technology collide, The Untitled Kartik Krishnan Project is a hidden gem, one that is a vaccine to those tired of the commercial tripe playing in theaters everywhere. Watch it.

(First published in MiD Day)

Movie Review: Cocktail

I had a most profound experience watching the climax of Cocktail. I knew what was coming but wished deep down that it wouldn't. When it finally arrived the entire hall erupted in loud groans and giggles. I looked around at everyone's faces for their reaction and I spotted a young man whose face stood out - he was leaning forward in his seat and staring at the cinema screen with a crestfallen expression on his face like it was the worst day of his life. The kind of face you'd see on a little kid who discovers that his lovely gift-wrapped box contained a dog’s fecal matter. 

Starring the overtly trying Saif Ali Khan, the scantily draped bodacious Deepika Padukone and my fiancé the insanely gorgeous Diana Penty, Cocktail has director Homi Adajania treating the love triangle theme like a ‘spin the bottle’ game - and it ends with the equivalent of the bottle pointing at a very hot woman who smiles to reveal broken teeth. 

The highest point of Cocktail is towards its middle when writer Imtiaz Ali and Adajania grab all the clichés of love triangles and send them through the shredder – it’s a brilliantly set scene where the trio actually confront each other to talk it out rather than indulging in ludicrous behind-the-bushes bullshitty misunderstandings. At that moment, Adajania makes you believe that you are watching something special. Frustratingly, almost immediately the film shifts into unintentionally hilarious melodrama – something the film was parodying in the first place. From its zenith brimming with freshness and originality, Cocktail descends into a cornball holier-than-thou reverse-pastiche of Fatal Attraction and Pyaar Tune Kya Kiya until it finally derails and crashes out to a clumsy and messy standstill.

If Imtiaz Ali’s Love Aaj Kal and Rockstar were a dependable source for kitschy films offering a brand of tough love and distance, then it is a principle completely borne in Cocktail. Cool Player Dude (Saif) hooks up with Hot Pants (Deepika), then falls for her friend Pious Lady (Diana), but Hot Pants wants her honey’s junk to herself. Who will make the ultimate sacrifice? It all ends on an excruciatingly clichéd note, and even the lovey dovey couples at whom this movie is aimed are unlikely to be kept from rolling their eyes. The characters are so wannabe and stereotype that it hurts. Because Deepika is ‘outgoing’, ‘hep’ and ‘trashy’, she hangs around in discotheques, smokes up with dudes, goes to pee multiple times and smooches the hero. Meanwhile Diana makes Rani Mukherjee in KKHH believable, because she is so attached to her ‘Indian heritage’ that she arrives in London in traditional desi dress, does BreakKathak when everyone around her is breakdancing, and only hugs the hero. When distressed, she pulls out a little idol of Meera and prays because she is named Meera. Funnily, Deepika’s character seems to be more in love with Diana’s, and it seems like director Adajania is playing some sort of a subtle homoerotic prank. You expect a lesbian twist at the end but sadly it doesn’t come.

The greatest virtue of Cocktail is that it is very, very good looking. The gorgeous London and Capetown locales supplement the film’s ludicrous characters – in fact if Cocktail were a music video it would be one of the best ones of the year. Pritam’s music is as generic as it gets but listening to Arif Lohar’s Jugni in the bombastic theater speakers blows your mind. 

Saif Ali Khan plays the same goofy hotchicksman from Hum Tum, Salaam Namaste and Tara Rum Pum, and it becomes hard to care about the ‘problems’ of a guy whose biggest trouble in life is dealing with two smoking hot women who love him and desperately want to cradle his nads. Someday, Saif Ali Khan will drop all pretense and make a film called Flirting, which will be a semi-improvised welter into such existential problems of rich troubled contemporary flirtatious mid-30’s NRI men. 

Deepika Padukone is deliciously bad-gurrl, and seems to have worked on her dialogue delivery as hard as she does on the treadmill. Her hiney is a better actor than the rest of her body but it’s great to see her chewing scenery, even after she goes into Glenn Close Fatal Attraction Mode. Diana Penty shows up like the Eid ka chaand and makes you want to leap into the screen and beg for her frandship. She isn’t as bad as Deepika was in OSO, and most of her acting flaws are masked by her maddeningly sweet visage. 

Cocktail is a cinematic cream cheese roll stuffed with a pinecone. It’s a predictable feel-good story, but maybe that’s a good thing - after all, no one wants to see a movie about bad relationships - people have plenty of those in their own lives. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Dissecting the finale of Minority Report

It’s been ten years since Steven Spielberg made a movie that set a new benchmark in science fiction and changed the future of technology. It almost seems like Spielberg and his team of future experts were the precogs who predicted gestured controlled touch screens, interactive targeted advertising, automatic self-driving cars, all of which are on the verge of being mainstream technologies now.

There are plenty of articles on how Minority Report revolutionsed technology and how it is visionary filmmaking, so it is needless of me to talk about how fucking good the movie is. What I can tell you is that you may have missed something subtly epic in the film.

The year is 2054, a ‘precrime’ police division has emerged that peers into the future and stops crime from taking place. At the heart of the technology is a trio of precogs, the girl Agatha and twin boys who get dreams of future murders and precrime obtains the victims’ names and locations. Things take a turn when the precogs have a vision of the Precrime chief Anderton (Tom Cruise) committing a murder.

Anderton has never met or known his future murder victim and makes a run for it. The sympathetic Precrime Director Lamar Burgess (Max von Sydow) offers help but Anderton learns from a senior Precog researcher that the precogs are never wrong, but occasionally they do ‘disagree’ – when one of them predicts something different. These ‘different’ predictions are called Minority Reports, and they signal an alternate future to some of the criminals arrested by Precrime – which means Precrime sometimes imprisons innocent people. 

A devastated Anderton makes his choice to set off to find Agatha and download his Minority Report to prove his innocence. From Agatha he learns of the attempted murder of a certain Anne Lively, a drug addict who was saved by Precrime but has been missing ever since. He meets his future victim Crow, who appears to be his son’s kidnapper.  Anderton, however, exercises free will over determinism and stops himself from killing Crow, much to the latter’s chagrin. 

It turns out that Crow was directed by an unknown figure to pose as the kidnapper so that Anderton would kill him. Burgess is revealed as the unknown figure who framed Anderton. In the past, Anne Lively had rehabilitated herself from drugs and had wanted her child Agatha back, thus jeopardizing Precrime’s operations. Presenting the film’s great irony, Burgess is forced to kill her to create a world without crime. He hires a chump to kill Lively and gets him arrested by Precrime, and proceeds to murder Lively in the same way that the hired assassin was going to. The technician sees the repeat murder footage as an ‘echo’ and disregards it. 

Anderton visits his ex-wife’s home where he figures out that Anne Lively was Agatha’s mother, and is immediately arrested by Precrime. He is imprisoned in the containment chamber. After this point, the film takes a gigantic fork, and most viewers take just the one path they can see.


Anderton’s wife breaks him out of jail and he unleashes the truth about Burgess to the world, after which the villain kills himself. A thrilling, poignant, satisfying but convenient ending. A bit too convenient and improbable. Because it never happened.

Let’s turn the clock back. Earlier in the film, when Anderton goes to the Department of Containment, what does Gideon the guard say to him about the comatose inmates? 

“Look at how peaceful they all seem. But on the inside, busy busy busy. It’s actually kind of a rush. They say you have visions. That your life flashes before your eyes. That all your dreams come true”.

That’s right, the comatose inmates aren’t really sleeping. The imprisoned Anderton isn’t in a coma. Nor is he out of his chamber exposing the villain to the world. It’s only all his dreams that are coming true. 

This is made most obvious when Anderton is sedated, and the very next scene we see is Burgess extrovertly claiming that ‘It’s all my fault’. 

He then brings Burgess down in the most grandiose way possible – by broadcasting his wrongs at a public event honoring his achievements. His former squad members who had no qualms about tripping the alarms and arresting him are suddenly helping him expose Burgess.

When he is framed, Anderton has two choices – be on the run and prove the imperfection of Precrime, or kill his future victim, get arrested and create a mega PR disaster and cause the demise of Precrime. The events following his imprisonment are too perfect. As vengeance, Anderton offers a similar choice to Burgess – to kill him, get arrested and prove that Precrime is flawed, or to not kill him and get arrested and witness the fall of Precrime. Here, Burgess suddenly becomes moral and shoots himself, and apologises to Anderton, and calls him his son – three things that Anderton desperately wanted.   

If all that weren’t enough, the perfection only becomes more perfect as Anderton gives up drugs, his wife returns to him, and they have a new baby. This would be a believable real world in a Hindi movie but not so much in a Spielberg film about dreams. The dreaming trio of precogs are also set free and now live in a cabin on a picture perfect island, where Agatha holds a necklace containing her mother’s picture.

Not to mention the logistical mess. It would be preposterous for Anderton’s wife to simply walk in to the Precrime department, let alone into the Department of Containment simply using John’s eyeball. 

It’s the freaking police station that is holding all of the city’s criminals. Remember, it was difficult for Anderton himself to walk into the department and rescue Agatha – (he wears a face changing disguise and sneaks in through a hidden back door). 

Moreover, the footage that exposes Burgess isn’t the least bit like the dreams and visions that the precogs have. The videos of the precogs’ premonitions are dark, grainy and choppy, while the one that proves Burgess as the killer is perfectly still, clear and bright and vignetted. Because it's the vision that Anderton sees, not the precogs.

It is a storytelling miracle that Minority Report works even with the straightforward happy ending third act, but it is unlikely that Spielberg, who put in so much thought into the film constructed just the one layer. And if you haven’t seen the movie, it’s a precrime. But you preventing yourself from watching it doesn’t change the fact that it is going to happen.