A Scanner Darkly - Review
Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio Commentary By Director Richard Linklater; The Story Of Filming A Scanner Darkly – Documentary; The Weight of the Line : Animation Tales – Documentary; Theatrical Trailer.
BIG screen adaptations of Philip K Dick novels tend to be hit-and-miss affairs – for every Blade Runner or Minority Report there’s a Paycheck or Screamers waiting in the wings. Richard Linklater is the latest director to take on the challenge but while A Scanner Darkly is undoubtedly beautiful to look at, it’s as confused and mixed up as its central characters.
In terms of overall quality, it’s closer to the work of Ridley Scott and Steven Spielberg than John Woo or Christian Duguay but its subject matter is such that viewers could easily find themselves lost in stoner hell while simultaneously being seduced by the visuals.
The look of the film is incredible, benefiting from the same rotoscoping animation that Linklater employed for Waking Life. But it can sometimes detract from the story as minds may start to wonder from the convoluted plot.
Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is an undercover cop investigating a potential drug den in downtown Los Angeles in the not-too-distant future. Trouble is, he’s become so deep undercover that he’s virtually lost his own sense of identity, while trying to combat the effects of a new super-drug known only as Substance D.
His colleagues have begun to suspect as much and regularly call him in for testing but even they don’t really know who Arctor really is because of the protective suit of constantly shifting clothes and faces he’s forced to wear in their company, to protect his identity from any potential leaks.
To complicate matters still further, Arctor is having a relationship with a similarly addicted cokehead (Winona Ryder), and hangs out with two paranoid slacker dealers (Robert Downey Jnr and Woody Harrelson) who spend most of their time cooking up conspiracies and worrying about their stash.
A Scanner Darkly works as well as it does because of the quality of its performances and its visuals, which both go some way to papering over the cracks in Linklater’s own screenplay. Essentially, it’s a slacker film in which most of its characters spend a lot of their time talking nonsense.
But in the hands of such charismatic performers as Downey Jnr (once again on electrifying motormouth form) and Harrelson, the film never feels like the drag it could have become. Rather, audiences may find themselves chuckling at some of the more outrageous theories, while slowly being dragged into the confused, paranoid state that Arctor exists.
Reeves, too, is similarly good as the detective at the centre of it all and the resolution of his story is cleverly relayed so that audiences can gain the sense of closure that many feared might not exist.
But while Linklater undoubtedly deserves praise for eventually making sense of the whole concept and for creating something so distinct, there are times when he allows proceedings to drag on to such an extent that he risks losing their patience. As such, the film will probably work best with sci-fi purists who can’t get enough of the futuristic glimpses and conspiracy theories that its characters continually spout forth.
A Scanner Darkly is therefore a brave, ambitious but flawed piece of filmmaking that isn’t quite as addictive as its director was hoping.
Running time: 100 minutes