A Scanner Darkly
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Richard Linklater
with Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr, Winona Ryder, Woody Harrelson, Rory Cochrane, Dameon Clarke, Marco Perella, Heather Kafka, Melody Chase, Jason Douglas, Jaki Davis, Angela Rawna
release US 7.Jul.06, UK 18.Aug.06
06/US Warner 1h40

Big brother is watching: Does a scanner see clearly or darkly?

reeves and ryder
downey and harrelson


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A Scanner Darkly There's a churning passion inside this eerie dramatic thriller, and it really gets under our skin. Linklater has adapted Philip K Dick's ahead-of-its-time 1977 novel into a gripping examination of addiction and politics.

Seven years from now: Bob Arctor (Reeves) may be a drug dealer, but he's also an detective assigned to keep an eye on himself. Since he wears a suit that scrambles his appearance, Bob's cop colleagues don't know who he is. And his junkie pals (Downey, Ryder, Harrelson and Cochrane) don't realise that he spends his days scanning videotapes of their drug-taking and backstabbing. The drug of choice is the addictive Substance D, which destroys any sense of reality and can only be cured at New Path rehab. This only sounds fishy if you're not on D.

Like Waking Life, Linklater filmed the scenes and then painstakingly animated each frame so the movie looks like a shimmering painting. This is animation so detailed that it often feels like heightened reality. The shifting, colourful imagery gives the film a brilliantly surreal tone, allowing Linklater to delve into the characters' hallucinatory perception of the world around them.

This filmmaking style also vividly captures the performances. It's one of Reeves' most involving roles; we intensely experience his disorientation and yearning for a "normal" life, and his reluctance to be used for a purpose outside his control, even though that ultimately may be his salvation. The other characters also register strongly: Ryder's radiant user, Harrelson's hyperactive stoner, Cochrane's hilariously delusional loner and especially Downey's lively, talkative, scene-stealing busybody.

In addition to the film's astonishing visuals (the scramble suit alone is hypnotically gorgeous), the script is packed with jagged humour and astute observations. Several sequences are creepy or scary, while others are riotously funny. All underscored with resonant emotion. As the story progresses, it shifts from a black comedy about junkies to a sinister Clockwork Orange-style thriller and ultimately into a sublime political treatise that makes its point in incredibly subtle ways. Our society has been numbed into oblivion by all kinds of propaganda; maybe this can jolt some of us back to reality.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 13.Jun.06

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... A Scanner Darkly Edd, England: 5/5 "Some find the animation distracting which I can understand, but I really felt it added to the movie; it creates a sense of unease throughout, with some aspects of the environment not quite fitting in, and allowing hallucinations that would not be possible with pure live action. Like any film, this has its faults. The plot could be quite confusing for someone who hasn't read the book, and the changes between styles (comedy, despair, suspense) can be rapid at times. Overall I would give it an enthusiastic thumbs up. I felt that although it was close to the book, it gave me a very different experience in the form of a movie; Linklater gave the story a slightly different emphasis but still managed to get across most of the best things about the book. It is intelligent yet beautiful, complex yet accessible and moving yet subtle; my favourite film of the year so far." (24.Aug.06)

James Cartledge, London: 4.5/5 "What a great movie - atmospheric and unpredictable, with a fantastic cast and a brilliant script. It varied from sinister and disturbing to funny, lighter moments with great characters. For me, this was as good an adaptation of the masterful Philip K Dick as Bladerunner." (1.Sep.06)

2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall