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A Scanner Darkly

A Scanner DarklyA Scanner Darkly, is the latest offering from writer/director Richard Linkater starring Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Robert Downey Jr, and Woody Harrelson. Loosely based on legendary sci-fi author Phillip K. Dick’s novel of the same name.

In the past Hollywood has adapted many of Dick’s novels to varying degrees of success. The more successful ones being Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report just to name a few.

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Linklater being the latest director to tackle Dick’s mind-bending tales has tried something different with this flick with the most obvious being the look. Using “Roto-scoping” a technique he first experimented in his previous movie Waking Life, Linklater’s use of the technique gives the film a dreamlike quality and turns each frame of each scene into a work of art. It is possibly the first movie to be filmed entirely in this technique, where the live action footage is filmed, and then later animated over in a painstaking process.

The film revolves around Bob Arctor/Agent Fred (Reeves) an undercover narcotics agent infiltrating a household of drug-users. As the film progresses Arctor’s addiction to the fictional super-drug ‘Substance D’ (seen as red capsules) causes him to question his identity. The side effects of long term use causes the left and right brains to conflict creating personality and identity issues. As the film and Arctor’s addiction progresses, the line between narc and addict become blurred. Keanu doesn’t do much to break his stoner ‘dude’ stereotype, although in this case it works. Robert Downey Jr gives another memorable performance playing Barris, Arctor’s shady roommate and dealer alongside Woody Harrelson. Linklater has cleverly cast actors with histories of drug abuse which make their performances that much more believable. The film has its rare comedic moments, mostly coming from the household of addicts.

A Scanner Darkly is mix of stoner comedy, sci-fi and animation. Despite the high concept, the story is fairly straightforward with a few twists and turns. Not quite as mind-bending as I was originally expecting and would it be as interesting without the hyper-stylized look? Probably not. That being said, Linklater has created something that is visually unique and thought provoking. It’s worth a look, even if only to experience the look of the movie in motion.

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