A Scanner Darkly
Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Winona Ryder
Directed By:
Richard Linklater

Based on Philip K. Dick's novel, A Scanner Darkly is a story about an undercover police officer who gets so far in deep he loses his grasp on what is real and what isn't. Dick, who had written the stories that became Blade Runner and Minority Report, presents a twisting story that is a strong portrayal of the effects that drug addiction can have.

The story opens with the undercover NARC Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) giving a speech inside of a scrambler suit, which keeps his identity hidden from the rest of the world. When at work, he remains inside the suit so that his boss and coworkers have no idea who he is. The reasoning behind this is that he's actually undercover and in charge of viewing his own surveillance. Of himself. Yes, you read that correctly. Arctor is actually put in charge of trying to gather information on the drug dealing activities of himself.

As Bob gets deeper into his role, he finds himself having a hard time distinguishing reality from the delusions that Substance D is showing him. In fact, reality shifts in and out at will, and the paranoia he feels isn't helped much by either his job, his friends or his distant girlfriend-slash-drug dealer. Towards the end, things are so scrambled that any resolution could happen and the one that finally does arrive is largely unexpected. One of the ironies of the story is that the drug addled main characters are often paranoid, but not without good reason as the world they live is intensely observed by the police. It easily raises the adage "You're not paranoid if they really are out to get you." Also at play is a positioning of the story which asks the question whether Arctor is a NARC pretending to be an addict or an addict pretending to be a NARC.

While much maligned, Keanu is excellent in the role, playing the numbed NARC turned drug addict. While Keanu plays the straight main character to the "T", he's accented by his slacker, weirdo friends, played by Woody Harrelson, Rory Cochrane and Robert Downey Jr. Downey's role as the overly intelligent and often maniacal Barris is so well delivered that I think it would be a shame if he didn't get a nod from the academy. Downy rattles off his commentary with such a machine-gun pace that you know he's coming from a place he's been before.

One could not go on about A Scanner Darkly without commenting on the modern rotoscoping technique used to animate the film. While there are some elements left untouched, large portions of the movie are animated in a cel-shaded manner, allowing for the drug-induced delusions to play out quite conveniently. On top of people changing in appearance before our eyes, this technique allows background elements to float and shift freely, creating a drug-addled vision for the viewer. It's a fine technique and works well with the story.

A Scanner Darkly is a heady story that is driven by lots of strong conversation-driven events. Those expecting an action flick may just be bored by about halfway through the movie. The script is meaty and the movie is as much about the experience and the twists that the story takes as it as about the final resolution. If you can endure a strong spoken story, you'll find this film quite an enjoyable experience.

- - Vane

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