A Scanner Darkly

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A Scanner Darkly
Review (8.5/10)
(By Reginald Williams)

Like most of the works by Philip K. Dick, "A Scanner Darkly" has a very complicated under layer behind what the viewer immediately sees. The method used to bring this particular Dick vision to life is called Rotoscoping, a pain-staking process of hand tracing every single frame of a live action performance, their associated textures and backgrounds. Richard Linklater, the director of "A Scanner Darkly", previously used this same process on another film he directed in 2001 called "Waking Life". Skepticism by newcomers to this method of film presentation will subside quickly when they see the film and realize that certain aspects of this film, especially the Scramble Suits, would have looked out of place if "Darkly" had been filmed in conventional Hollywood fashion.

"A Scanner Darkly" stars Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Robert Downey Jr. and Woody Harrelson. Without giving away major plot points or key revelations, "Darkly" is a pretty movie to view with an interesting take on the future, America's war on drugs and undercover police officers. Reeves plays Robert Arctor, a drug addicted police officer, reminiscent of Tom Cruise's John Anderton from another Dick adaptation, "Minority Report", who uses a department issue Scramble Suit, which bestows upon him the ability to look and sound like anyone in the world, for his work infiltrating and arresting drug dealers. There is a new drug on the streets and no one knows where it is supplied from, no matter what covert methodology is employed. It isn't long before Arctor is unknowingly drawn into this struggle, even as the condition of fractured mind (you'll see) grows worse.

Ryder plays Donna Hawthorne, Arctor's girlfriend, though she won't hug, kiss or have sex with him. The reason she gives? "I do a lot of coke." Downey and Harrelson play Arctor's live-in roommates, the former named James Barris and the latter named Ernie Luckman, though neither of them probably pays rent of any kind and are most likely free-loading. Barris and Luckman do, along with Rory Cochrane's Charles Freck, provide the majority of the humor found in "A Scanner Darkly" and are sardonic assets to the film.

There are so many laughs and interesting concepts within "A Scanner Darkly" that they make the film worth seeing at least once, though multiple viewings will be necessary to understand the nuances of the plot, much like Dick's "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" ("Total Recall") and to a greater extent "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" ("Blade Runner"). I'd read two of Dick's books: "The Minority Report", "Second Varity" (the book "Screamers" is based on) and parts of "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" and "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?", so I knew walking into "A Scanner Darkly", as it is supposedly closely based on its name sake, that it would be imaginative. If you venture into "Darkly", you may become instantly addicted to its "Substance" as many of the film's characters are.


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