InsidePulse Review – A Scanner Darkly

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Director :

Richard Linklater

Cast :

Robert Downey Jr………..James Barris
Woody Harrelson……….Ernie Luckman
Keanu Reeves ……….Bob Arctor
Winona Ryder……….Donna Hawthorne
Sean Allen……….Additional Fred Scramble Suit Voice (voice)
Mark Turner……….Additional Hank Scramble Suit Voice (voice)

With the commercial success from both Matrix sequels, Keanu Reeves is at a rare place amongst actors. He can pick and choose projects based on their merit and not on whether or not they will pay for his continued lifestyle. As 2004’s Constantine and the romantic drama The Lake House from earlier this year have shown, the differently talented actor is picking projects that are much more in tune creatively with his acting abilities and style. Further away from the generic action movies and mediocre romantic dramas that have been his calling card since Speed made him a regular fixture near the top of Hollywood, he has enough clout, and enough money it seems, to be able to take projects he wants as opposed to ones that would merely pay his mortgage. And with A Scanner Darkly Reeves has picked another in what is becoming a series of good films from an actor not known for them.

Reeves stars as Fred, a detective trying to stem the flow of Substance D onto the streets. The drug is a narcotic and has a curious side effect: it causes some of its users to develop an alternate personality or other forms of advanced psychosis like visual and auditory hallucinations. Fred has developed an alternate personality as Bob, a notorious drug dealer. Fred’s also been assigned to bring him and his network down, creating an unusual quandary. As his mind further degrades, Fred/Bob has to try and work both sides of the equation. As Fred he deals with his boss Hank to bring down Bob to try and reel in some larger people in the drug-dealing establishment. Undercover as Bob, he tries to deal with his cohorts Barris (Robert Downey Jr.) and Ernie (Woody Harrelson) while continuing to move up the drug-dealing food chain provided to him by his girlfriend Donna (Winona Ryder). It’s a unique film with a strong script & acting that works on a grander level due to the manner that it is animated in.

The film was filmed as a live action film and then animated in the same manner as Waking Life; the whole cast acted and then the film itself was animated frame by frame. As a live action film it would’ve been good, but in the Rotoscope many of the sequences and plot devices are much stronger. Bob, Hank and the rest of the narcotics officers all have special chameleon suits that don’t allow for any sort of voice or facial recognition. As elaborate CGI it would’ve perhaps looked better, but animated it allows for certain surprises and plot twists to work on a much different level. A big twist at the end, which normally would be almost transparent even with CGI in a live action film, can be disguised very cleverly until the point where it happens because of the. The film’s drug imagery and metaphors are much stronger due to the animation as well; the surreal nature of the animation lends a meaning that live action or even the computer animation prevalent in today’s animated films wouldn’t lend to a film with subject matter of this nature.

The film’s script, as well as its cast, is top notch. Phillip K Dick’s novel has a certain appeal to it that lends itself to a specific audience and the film’s script doesn’t stray from its roots for a sort of broader appeal. Tightly scripted to make for a good film, A Scanner Darkly has a lot of good humor inside it to go along with the serious tone of the film. Plenty of comedic moments are placed inside to give the film’s serious nature a much needed boost; some humor is needed to break up the pace, which is a bit spotty at times, but Richard Linklater does a terrific job keeping the film together. This is also an intelligent film; Linklater has a great script that requires an attention to detail that comes through easily.

It doesn’t hurt that Downey and Harrelson have a terrific chemistry together for the lighter moments, bringing some needed levity to the proceedings. Providing some of the more humorous moments, they are also able to coax some great dramatic gravity out of Reeves. Forced to be a straight man to their comedic exploits on occasion, Reeves methodical acting style fits in well. The tone of the film brings the dramatic sensibilities needed to keep the film entertaining but it is Reeves who carries the film on his back, shockingly enough. Much like his other big hits Fred/Bob is a character he can sink his teeth in to and work well; Linklater and the script give him plenty of shading and foreground to work with, making it an easy part for him to immerse himself in, but Reeves imbues the character with enough substance that keeps the film moving forward at an aggressively entertaining pace.

STORY 9 / 10
ACTING 9.5 / 10
LOOK/FEEL 9.5 / 10

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