A Scanner Darkly
by Andrew James
The obvious style of the film is the roto-scoping technique used to animate a filmed, live-action movie; exactly the same technique used in 2002's "Waking Life," and also a national investment company's telelvision commercials. Without getting too technical, the technology basically animates each frame of already filmed material to give a very surreal view of the surroundings and the characters that inhabit the celluloid. It's a very cool and interesting looking final product that fits well with this particular story, although it does start to become tiresome and even a bit constraining at times. I really wanted to see Robert Downey Jr. Not Robert Downey Jr covered with animation. But still, like I said, it's pretty cool looking and does add to this already strange and surreal tale of a drug-induced haze.
Keanu Reeves stars as an undercover detective who wears a "scramble suit" to hide his true identity. The suit computarily (another Drewbacca-ism) generates over a million and a half different motion captured, unique faces, so that anyone looking at the person wearing the suit is constantly seeing someone new. Weird, I know; but also damn cool. Reeves' character lives in a "drug house" with three other people in an effort to bust a national drug syndicate. He monitors and watches them for evidence, while he himself is becoming a user of the addictive, mind-altering drug known as substance-D. There is sooo much more going on here that I won't get into here. You'll just have to watch and try to figure it out for yourself.
Believe it or not, this is one of Keanu's finer performances. He was very believable and was not a wooden clone like in Johnny Mnemonic or even The Matrix. Last year's "Thumbsucker" also shows Reeves' maturity as an actor. He's really becoming a good performer; not just a good looking mannequin with a gun. Robert Downey Jr is of course brilliant. He's made so many movies in the past year, I've lost count and he is completely sensational in each one. The dialogue written for this screenplay has a large vocabulary and is quick, but to the point. Downey's ability and charisma fits this style like a glove. Woody Harrelson and Winona Ryder get plenty of screen time as well and add a few laughs; as does Rory Cochrane, an already brain-fried addict who is constantly paranoid and delusional.
So although A Scanner Darkly is interesting to look at and fun to watch at times with some quickly-paced dialogue and great acting (although the acting is tough to gauge with the roto-scoping), it is hardly engrossing or engaging on an emotional level. A dumbed down, drug numbed America has been explored countless times in the past. As has the overly used surveillance techniques of a semi-fascist government. I invested all of my energy into decoding what the hell is going on in the story and concentrating on how things look instead of caring about the characters. If you're into cult films, this will most likely be one of the biggest in recent memory. It's not bad, it's just not great. Either way, you'll definitely leave your viewing pondering a few things and hypothesizing about some things you might not have otherwise. A smart film, but a bit too smart for my tastes.