A Scanner Darkly [Blu-ray]
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Set in a not-too-distant future where America has lost its "war" on drugs, Fred, an undercover cop, is one of many people hooked on the popular drug, Substance D, which causes its users to develop split personalities. Fred is obsessed with taking down Bob, a notorious drug dealer, but due to his Substance D addiction, he does not know that he is also Bob. Based on a classic novel by Philip K. Dick. Starring Keanu Reeves ("Constantine," "The Matrix" trilogy), Academy Award-nominee and Golden Globe-winner Winona Ryder ("Girl, Interupted," "Mr. Deeds"), Academy Award and Emmy-nominee and Golden Globe-winner Robert Downey Jr. ("Good Night, And Good Luck" "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang"), and Academy Award and Golden Globe-nominee and Emmy-winner Woody Harrelson ("North Country," "The People vs. Larry Flynt"). Directed by Academy Award-nominee Richard Linklater ("Before Sunset," "Dazed and Confused"). Filmed in live-action, and then animated using the same critically acclaimed process that Linklater used in his previous film, "Waking Life."
How well you respond to Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly depends on how much you know about the life and work of celebrated science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. While it qualifies as a faithful adaptation of Dick's semiautobiographical 1977 novel about the perils of drug abuse, Big Brother-like surveillance and rampant paranoia in a very near future ("seven years from now"), this is still very much a Linklater film, and those two qualities don't always connect effectively. The creepy potency of Dick's premise remains: The drug war's been lost, citizens are kept under rigid surveillance by holographic scanning recorders, and a schizoid addict named Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is facing an identity crisis he's not even aware of: Due to his voluminous intake of the highly addictive psychotropic drug Substance D, Arctor's brain has been split in two, each hemisphere functioning separately. So he doesn't know that he's also Agent Fred, an undercover agent assigned to infiltrate Arctor's circle of friends (played by Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder, Rory Cochrane, and Robert Downey, Jr.) to track down the secret source of Substance D. As he wears a "scramble suit" that constantly shifts identities and renders Agent Fred/Arctor into "the ultimate everyman," Dick's drug-addled antihero must come to grips with a society where, as the movie's tag-line makes clear, "everything is not going to be OK."
While it's virtually guaranteed to achieve some kind of cult status, A Scanner Darkly lacks the paranoid intensity of Dick's novel, and Linklater's established penchant for loose and loopy dialogue doesn't always work here, with an emphasis on drug-culture humor instead of the panicked anxiety that Dick's novel conveys. As for the use of "interpolated rotoscoping"--the technique used to apply shifting, highly stylized animation over conventional live-action footage--it's purely a matter of personal preference. The film's look is appropriate to Dick's dark, cautionary story about the high price of addiction, but it also robs performances of nuance and turns the seriousness of Dick's story into... well, a cartoon. Opinions will differ, but A Scanner Darkly is definitely worth a look--or two, if the mind-rattling plot doesn't sink in the first time around. --Jeff Shannon
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Top customer reviews
Scanner Darkly is one of those movies that didn't connect with me,
didn't assert its reality, until about the last 15 minutes.
And when it turned into "Whoa", it wasn't about plot twists or
mental coruscations, it was about the characters as individuals,
and their emotions. This movie has a heart.
Part of it for me was watching the 1st half one night, and the 2nd
half the next night. That allowed me to watch the Commentary right
after the movie, which pointed out a great deal of detail and nuance.
There's a lot more going on in this movie than just Rotoscoping.
I haven't read the book, nor any of PKD's work, except 1 short story,
a long long time ago, which I still vividly remember. So for me,
background on PKD provided by his daughter in the Commentary is great.
Scanner Darkly has, believe it or not, a lot of autobiographical aspects.
Some of the choices he made, and some of the voice-over, is wrenching.
The Commentary therefor speaks directly to PKD's visionary insights and
perspectives on what seems like a fairly mundane, boring world he lived
in then, and we live in today. And make no mistake, his vision applies
as much today, if not more so, than back then. Its highly topical, and
the Commentary gets into this topical aspect in good detail.
For fans of Keanu Reeves, and the other stars here, I think this is
excellent work by the actors, but in order to appreciate their work,
you have to find your connection with the movie. It takes a little
effort, but its highly worthwhile.
As I write this, there are blurbs about a mega-budget movie Reeves is
in, "47 Ronin". Some say its his big comeback from the Matrix. But
Scanner Darkly shows that Reeves took a very challenging role in a very
different kind of movie, and he performed superbly. In the end, Reeves
brings Bob Arctor up to the same tragic/heroic level as Neo Anderson:
--- "A present for my friends, at Thanksgiving." ---
And the same holds true for all the stars. In such a vision-heavy
story, they all bring the acting up to the level necessary to make the
characters come alive. Subtle sometimes, vivid other times. Superb.
Scanner Darkly is the kind of movie where I wonder why it didn't sell
$150-200 million at the box office, like, say, "Limitless". Being a
small, independent production shouldn't preclude commercial success.
Maybe not an easy movie, but a very good movie.
The use of the "anonymity suits" is a really fascinating idea, and unlike Waking Life, the plot does not waver, it is solid, keeps you guessing, and ultimately has a great ending. The epilogue from Philip K. Dick's original novel remains in-tact, as well, which seemed like a really commendable thing to do.
It's also worth noting that all of the actors were extremely professional, and seemed incredibly immersed in their roles. Very good work.
Overall, great film.
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