A Scanner Darkly
I can spoil it for you wholesale!
Robert Linklater takes Philip K. Dick’s eerily possible police state, paranoia stricken psychological thriller, “A Scanner Darkly” and brings it to the big screen. Dick wrote this novel, while on a drug binge, many of the characters were friends of his during this time and he had first hand experience with the ravages of drug abuse. This is just another in a long line of Dick’s classics to be brought to the big screen. The film is presented in “interpolated rotoscoping”, a technique that the director first used in one of his other films, “Waking life”.
The story revolves around Robert “Bob” Arctor/Agent Fred/Bruce, played by Keanu Reeves, and his drug addicted friends: Barris (Robert DowneyJjr.), Freck (Rory Cochrane), Luckman (Woody Harrelson) and Donna (Winona Ryder). Agent Fred is an undercover cop, who is assigned to spy on Bob and his friends in order to find out the origins of a particularly addictive drug called Substance D. Agent Fred and his superior, Officer Hank, and many of the agents of law enforcement, wear scramble suits, which project false identities, to protect their cover, but they complicate knowing who is working whom. Through a series of drug induced conversations, Fred/Bob realizes that his grasp on reality might be slipping after being undercover for such a long period of time. As his undercover life comes undone, cracks appear in his regular life and Bob finds that his “normal” life may be just as screwed up as his fake life.
The director effectively uses an animated format to show the mind altering effects of Substance D and the shifting realities that come crashing down around Fred/Bob. In general, I’m not a big fan of rotoscoping but done in this fashion and with this material it really looks pretty good. Though there are going to be people that just can’t stand the shakey shots and the cell-shaded look of the actors.
The movie flows from one scene to another with relative ease and does not get hung up on any one plot point for too long. The idea of spying on yourself in a heavily authoritarian state is pretty interesting. Two things bothered me about this film: The first thing was the way they patronized the viewer so much with the key plot points. We didn’t need to be hand-held throughout the film. The second thing is that the paranoia and the madness that the characters should be feeling and battling against is pretty much non-existent. Much like in “Do androids dream of electric sheep?”, “A Scanner Darkly” deals with what is real and what is not and the movie doesn’t make an effort to show us a world gone crazy.
The acting is this movie is pretty bad. The actors lazily get through their lines, not investing too much of themselves into the story. Reeves is unconvincing as an undercover cop and as a drug addict, though he plays the brain damaged, nearly comatose Bruce, well. The rest of the cast coast along on the verbose dialogues and wacky facial expressions, which were probably put in during post production.
This limited release film was definitely targeting a small demographic and doesn’t deserve much more that a 5 out of 10 or two out of five stars. The story had a lot of potential but the director didn’t find a way of bring it to life. Fans of Dick and rotoscoping may find this movie worthwhile but everyone else will feel ripped off by the ineffective acting and lackluster storytelling.