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A Scanner Darkly /

Rated: R

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Winona Ryder, Woody Harrelson, Rory Cochrane

Directed by: Richard Linklater

Produced by: George Clooney, Steven Soderberg, Jennifer Fox

Written by: Richard Linklater

Distributor: Warner Independent Pictures

 

Keanu Reeves in Warner Independent Pictures' A Scanner Darkly

Winona Ryder in Warner Independent Pictures' A Scanner Darkly

Rory Cochrane in Warner Independent Pictures' A Scanner Darkly

     Writer/director Richard Linklaterís A Scanner Darkly is a challenging and visually-stunning Philip K. Dick adaptation that, in all of its profundity, goes absolutely nowhere. Usually, I will complain that a movie tries to mold too much of a story around too few ideas, but here, Linklater has it the other way around. The film, much thanks to its source material, is full of riveting ideas which are as resonant in todayís society as they were when Dick originally wrote his novel in 1977, but on the level of a linear-narrative, it offers almost nothing for viewers to chew on. The premise involves undercover agent Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) in a future that has fallen victim to loose drug-enforcement laws. The popular ďSubstance DĒ, among other more-typical drugs, overwhelms sects of the U.S. population. Unfortunately, Linklaterís adapted screenplay is only able to use this fascinating set-up to question the progression of order in American Society; his nonchalant re-creation of A Scanner Darklyís story is mostly muddled and uninteresting.

 

     Whatís much more engaging than the filmís story is its visual appearance. Linklater presents A Scanner Darkly in the style of rotoscope-animation, filming every scene as one would a live-action feature, but then painting over the frames and adding additional effects in order to create a surreal look about the images. The writer/director also used the technique in his previous film, Waking Life, but here he has refined it for a highly haunting effect. Primarily, Linklater has renovated the style by implementing more realistic-looking backgrounds than those featured in Waking Life, which accentuate the animated features of the human-figures. Not to mention, in addition to its ability to highlight Dickís paranoid vision throughout the filmís duration, rotoscoping was highly cost-effective in allowing Linklater to craft certain special-effects. Itís quite a shame that the weak narrative isnít able to support A Scanner Darklyís commanding, illustrious visions.

 

     Among the many other things that A Scanner Darkly has going for it, the performances in the film are superb. Had the storyline matched the intellectual complexity of the movieís thematic value, Reevesí interpretation of the protagonistís dilemma involving his government workís intrusion on his personal-life would have been highly compelling. Robert Downey Jr., Rory Cochrane, and Woody Harrelson also chime in with tremendous portrayals of users of Substance D; their frantic exhibitions of addiction make for the most complete thread of the movieís story.

 

     Due to his Linklaterís outstanding repertoire, A Scanner Darklyís lackluster narrative hasnít caused me to lose faith in the filmmaker as a writer, but it certainly hasnít improved my view of his career, either. Iím glad that Dickís pertinent body of work continues to be adapted by Hollywood today, but itís unfortunate that the results, in this case, are dizzy and incomplete.

 

-Danny, Bucket Reviews (7.18.2006)

 


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