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Overall Rating

Awesome: 29.03%
Worth A Look: 20.97%
Pretty Bad: 1.61%
Total Crap: 4.84%

6 reviews, 26 user ratings

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Scanner Darkly, A
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by William Goss

"Uncomfortably Numb"
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: In the near future, roughly twenty percent of Americans are hooked on Substance D, a drug associated with “dumbness, despair, desertion and death.” In keeping with the trend, it seems only appropriate that writer/director Richard Linklater’s animated adaptation of 'A Scanner Darkly' could be similarly deemed “distant, detached, and dreary.”

Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) passes the time in Orange County, California with his addict pals, Barris (Robert Downey Jr.), Luckman (Woody Harrelson), and Freck (Rory Cochrane), as well as drug-dealing Donna (Winona Ryder), popping capsules of D and waxing paranoid. However, Arctor happens to be Fred, a narcotics agent so deep undercover (he wears a “scramble suit” that constantly disguises his identity) that he ends up assigned to monitor himself and his friends. Between his fractured identity, his eroding psyche, and the weakening loyalty of his friends, Bob/Fred finds himself in increasingly conflicting and confusing circumstances.

As an effective statement condemning substance abuse, Scanner is almost too entertaining for its own good. Just like most other Linklater characters, the roles are those of suburban slackers with misplaced priorities and a penchant for astute conversation, and like its subjects, the majority of the story lacks a sense of purpose outside of drug-fueled discussions with intermittent hallucinatory interruption, yet for something so humorous, it isn’t all that upbeat. Then again, as a declaration damning government influence, a perennial theme that happens to coincide particularly with recent events, it just isn’t enough to make quite the intended impact. While the sinister surveillance and perpetual paranoia is indeed pervasive, especially with the occasional allusion to New Path, a shady rehab center, the proceedings fail to turn truly dour until the abrupt third act, when the main man finally goes over the deep end and another role takes on greater significance.

Reeves’ stoic nature serves him well in such a role, where general indifference is initially par for the course until matters take a turn for the worse, after which he remains surprisingly convincing. Ryder and Cochrane prove themselves to be persistently adequate as the merchant and most edgy addict, respectively. Downey Jr. and, to a lesser degree, Harrelson nearly steal the show, with their wry wit making drug use seem more like a muse for amusement than a behavior of consequence. Their droll delivery only enhances Linklater’s dialogue, which drops clever nuggets amongst the dark truths, and although one can sense that this is more faithful to Philip K. Dick’s 1977 novel than most other cinematic adaptations of his work (Imposter, Paycheck, Screamers), the entire project reeks of a greater depth that never fully manifests itself, even as the whole convoluted picture reveals itself to be wholly comprehensible, if superficially profound. Unlike the relatively polished efforts of Minority Report, Total Recall, or Blade Runner (all Dick-inspired films), the material here is dense enough to be a concern not of intelligence, but instead of patience, although the comparatively reduced running time is made all the more apparent by an somewhat hasty and underwhelming climax.

Linklater utilizes the rotoscoping process he employed in 2001’s Waking Life, by shooting the entire film in live-action and then animated over each and every frame, quite a painstaking feat that looks noticeably smoother than previously while maintaining that off-kilter feel that seems better suited for the existential ramblings of Life. Here, the process is so lifelike that one wonders why exactly it was needed. If anything, the film might be better grounded and more striking had it remained live-action, with only select elements (the scramble suit, narcotic hallucinations) making use of such a surreal technique while suggesting a more practical reality that’s intended to exist within the next decade.

'A Scanner Darkly' seems to be practically begging for a cult following, but any such appeal can be attributed more to the story beneath than the glossy package it comes in. Although I do feel that I get the bleak message and its solemn intent, I simply don’t care for such a summer bummer. The material may easily lend itself to fanboy pretense, and while it probably doesn’t deserve to become a cult classic, it virtually establishes itself as a peculiar novelty worth recommending to Dick fans and, with less enthusiasm, to Linklater’s admirers. As for the rest of us, it might be worth a shot to see what you make of it. Just don’t try it out of peer pressure.

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originally posted: 06/09/06 18:51:01
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/21/17 morris campbell visionary but very overrated 1 stars
1/10/10 Jeff Wilder Stylistically well-done with some genuine substance 4 stars
11/22/08 Shaun Wallner Thought this was a good film. 3 stars
8/31/08 Scarlet Keanu can act; RDJ steals the film, and thank God he's back 5 stars
5/08/07 hedd Love the book and this was better than expected 4 stars
4/25/07 Dude amazing 5 stars
2/19/07 Mia One word to describe it - bland. Reeves not at his best, & generally poor quality. 1 stars
2/02/07 Indrid Cold Don't see what the point of the rotoscoping is. Most of the plot is pointless too. 3 stars
12/15/06 Donny Martwick Its Awww right. 4 stars
12/09/06 kaz FINALLY in Oz!! Witty,sad & thoughtprovoking.. 5 stars
11/11/06 matt Enjoyable, but difficult to understand 4 stars
10/19/06 Joan Montserrat Very faithful to Dick, a unique movie that makes no cheap concessions and strikes for deep 5 stars
8/21/06 Adam This film was a lot deeper than I suspected. I really enjoyed it. Very true to addiction. 5 stars
8/08/06 gemma depicts overall a druguser comprehension 4 stars
8/06/06 jcjs so fine, mnd blower, go on weed helps too, just splendid right on, wowsa wowsa wowsa 5 stars
7/25/06 Mortis Faithful to PDK, excellent performance by all actors, A must see 5 stars
7/24/06 shane swank more faithful to Dick than others yet not quite there yet. despite flaws its relevant today 4 stars
7/24/06 malcolm interesting for about 20 minutes 2 stars
7/21/06 Agent Sands Much better than Waking Life. Downey and Harrelson are the highlights. 4 stars
7/17/06 Ronald Pottol very glad I saw it 5 stars
7/16/06 ogaga efevberha fantastic and really inspiring 5 stars
7/15/06 zeitgeist FINALLY a good PKD adaptation. Humorous, metaphorical...Brilliant. 5 stars
6/13/06 Kelly Garcia I am a fan of the book. Fantastic adaptation. Smart, funny, timely! 5 stars
6/11/06 San Lamar wait for dvd 3 stars
5/21/06 John Deere It's the 1978 "Lord of the Rings" all over again. Awesome. 5 stars
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  07-Jul-2006 (R)
  DVD: 19-Dec-2006



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