A Scanner Darkly a Philip K. Dick novel adapted for the screen by Richard Linklater is oddly alluring if you can make it past the first ten minutes or so.
The setting is “seven years from now” when one in five people are addicted to something just called Substance D. We see the movie primarily through 5 characters: Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves), Jim Barris (Robert Downey Jr.), Donna Hawthorne (Winona Ryder), Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson) and Charles Freck (Rory Cochrane). The males form a semi-soft confederacy of convenience. Ernie and Jim live with Arctor who is a dealer in large quantities of Substance D.
One of the side-effects of this drug is paranoia (most drugs are like this as the use for pleasure becomes use for everyday living—true addiction). With paranoia comes conspiracy theories. The film has several overt and obvious conspiracies that are real, a few subtle ones that are also real, and the mostly incoherent theories that are totally wrong.
There are essentially three plotlines that all intersect through Arctor. The initial plot (and framing narrative) is of what amounts to DEA agents trying to infiltrate drug organizations just as you would expect. This story links with the Arctor drug situation and with the intimacy that Donna causes but refuses to participate in. If I go into any more detail, I will ruin the plot.
The reason I give the ten minute statement above is the odd choice to film A Scanner Darkly as semi-cartoon. The following is a quote from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Scanner_Darkly_Movie) : [The film] was filmed digitally . . . then animated with Rotoshop [which] uses an animation technique called interpolated rotoscope.” Anyway the effect is an effect of making very carefully drawn comic book characters not only “come to life” but to look so close to the “actor” who has been digitized that you could tell in half an instant who they were.
At first this bugged me and distracted me. But as the movie progressed I grew to like it in this context. For one thing there is a suit that the agents use that is constantly changing portions of the skin so that no one can see the person in the suit—I can’t imagine how this would be possible to do with live characters unless the budget was huge.
Similarly, it took me a rather long time to get into the story. Once I did, I liked it but found it predictable—at times some red herrings show up, but that is normal for this sort of story. Even when my predictions turned out to be true, it didn’t diminish my interest in the film.
It is a trage-comedy. The comedy parts are indeed funny, a couple of the scenes had me backing up to see them again. I didn’t expect anything to be laugh out loud funny, but there were a few scenes that were. The tragedies were the predictable parts of the film, so I will not go any further.
My main complaint is with the acting. Mr. Downey has played this part before, so has Mr. Harrelson so has Mr. Reeves. A Scanner Darkly changed the way they looked a bit, but that didn’t distract from the derivative performances in the long run.
I never thought I would ever type this. It is an above average film despite Mr. Reeves and Ms. Ryder.
What did you think of this review?