Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A Scanner Darkly

Written and directed by Richard Linklater from the book by Philip K. Dick
Warner Independent

A Scanner Darkly opened on July 7, and has made its way through the country since, and I finally got around to seeing it.

Linklater's films are always worth watching--ever inventive with film narrative, his most distinguished work takes something that could have been gimmicky and turns it into something very natural, or at least interesting enough to make one forgive the gimmick. In 2001, with Waking Life, Linklater experimented with rotoscoped animation, the act of taking a filmed or digital image and then tracing over it to give the appearance of ultra-realistic animation. Philip K. Dick's 1977 sci-fi drug novel, obviously, seems perfect for this kind of trippy enterprise.

The story concerns undercover cop Agent Fred/Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves, who else?), whose true identity is withheld not only from the druggies he cohabitates with in his own home, but the police force in which he works. His job is to uncover "something big" going down behind closed doors--his roomies James Barris (Robert Downey, Jr., who is always fun to watch), Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson; enough druggies in one cast for ya?), and girlfriend Donna (Winona Ryder, making this officially the Rap Sheet Cast of the Year), could all lead him to a big drug bust. Arctor and his roomies are all hooked on a drug called Substance D, or simply "Death," the effects of which in their extreme are shown with Charles Freck (Rory Cochrane), who thinks bugs are crawling all over his body. One day Arctor's name pops up in the investigation from an anonymous source, and since no one knows Arctor is Agent Fred, he has to investigate himself through surveillance cameras set up in his own home.

This intriguing setup leads to the requisite twists and turns, with a satisfactory conclusion. Overall, the movie is solid. I also get the sense the more you watch this, the better it gets. But I would be remiss to tell you that I wasn't expecting more. A movie like this needs more than neat animation, and with Linklater behind it, experimenting a little bit more with the script could have spiced this up a bit. He's never been the kind of director to experiment with time, like Tarantino or Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, but it seems like the perfect kind of movie to do that with--there's a neat sequence where the image fast forwards, part of that Big Brother theme that is laced throughout the story, cameras everywhere detailing everyone's lives and someone's got control over what they observe--The Criterion DVD of Average Joe, but it's the only time Linklater seems to be playing with the audience.

In other words, Linklater had the story, had the cool technical look, but seemed a little lax on what is typically his strong suit--making a narrative that is unique. Like any movie with a stylish gimmick--Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow comes to mind, as does Sin City. If you strip the visuals away, what do you have? Plain. Boring. Gladly, this movie is better than both of those, and well worth watching...just don't expect to be blown away.


Post a Comment

<< Home