I hope it's clear from this summary that Minority Report not only represents another of Spielberg's Major Statements but also continues his risky new practice of self-expression--risky because his feelings remain unresolved, and also because he allows them to be Major. A solemnity pervades the movie, making itself felt most tellingly at moments of incidental humor. Spielberg has never been a rollicking filmmaker--the human activities that least interest him are laughter and sex--but in the past he's known how to raise a chuckle, and he's known when to do it. In Minority Report, though, clumsy throwaway gags keep interrupting the action, as if Spielberg had lost his sense of how to play with the audience. Slapstick assaults upon a family at the dinner table, or Olympian sneers at bickering couples, do nothing to leaven Minority Report. The movie's ponderousness is relieved only by Samantha Morton's uncanny portrayal of the psychic Agatha and by Lois Smith's turn as Dr. Hineman, the researcher who ought to have healed the Pre-Cogs but instead turned them into tools of the police. When Cruise goes to visit Smith at her greenhouse hideaway, the colors of Brutalist architecture briefly give way to those of nature, and the pace of the acting triples. Speaking her lines over and around Cruise, Smith plays her role in the manner of Vladimir Horowitz dashing off an étude.
"Who is the strongest Pre-Cog?" Cruise wants to know. Smith smiles indulgently at the blind man. "Why, the woman, dear." This claim of female superiority has the charm of gallantry; it's Spielberg's gift to the actress. But as it's developed in the rest of the movie, the notion (like far too much of Minority Report) lacks the flourish that gallantry requires. I offer sincere congratulations to Spielberg for at least two-thirds of this picture; but now I think it's time to leave Minority Report and consider a movie about a real woman.
Her name is Carla. She works for a real estate development company, where she's treated like part of the office equipment. As embodied by Emmanuelle Devos, Carla has an apology for a hairdo and a choked-off complaint for a lower lip. When she's casually insulted--her paperwork ruined by the spill from a coffee cup, her skirt stained suggestively under the rump--Carla falls apart so completely that her boss offers to let her hire an assistant. "Trainees are cheap," he explains, as if that would make her feel better. She hires one anyway and comes up with the man of her dreams: Paul (Vincent Cassel), a greasy, long-haired, leather-jacketed, muttering ex-con, who assures her (while his eyes scan for the exit) that sure, he's worked with, uhm, spreadsheets. Plenty of them.
One of the pleasures of Read My Lips--a pleasure that isn't available in Minority Report--is the way the movie invites you to see into these characters, who always amount to more than their functions in the plot. Early on, for example, when Carla and Paul are just getting to know each other, you see how they might be bound by a common lack of decorum. "What were you in jail for?" Carla asks bluntly, violating rule number one for dealing with ex-cons. Paul answers her, then asks in turn, "So you're deaf? I mean, really deaf? Like, you can't hear?" Although she tells him to shut up, Carla doesn't hesitate to play along when he asks her to read someone's lips. He likes her willingness to trespass on others. She likes the muscle he provides.
Although Carla's alliance with Paul develops uneasily, it's not without humor. (No false notes here; Audiard always gets the tone right.) But even though the bumps and jolts of the plot are intriguing--and far more numerous than those in Minority Report--what's perhaps most engaging in Read My Lips is the evocation of Carla's reality. The images are often incomplete, oddly framed, out of focus, unsteady, surprisingly closeup, bathed in shadow, richly colored, dreamily slow. This is the subjective vision of human eyes, not the objective gaze of the camera--and Carla sees it all the more vividly because the world of sound is closed.
I like the sensuousness of Read My Lips and the nuance of its portrait of a woman. I like the sense of possibility in the characters, the interplay between Devos and Cassel, the mundane realism of the plot (which asks you to believe only that the real estate business isn't entirely clean, and that large sums of cash sometimes flow through bars). I even like the happy ending. Although Spielberg's picture is the one titled Minority Report--an ironic name for a Tom Cruise blockbuster, as its maker surely knows--Read My Lips files the story that's too infrequently heard.