Saturday Movie Review – “A Scanner Darkly”

This week’s review is of one of 2006’s independent films that deserves much more attention than it initially received, based on a classic by Philip K. Dick.

Cast and Crew

Keanu Reeves as Agent Fred / Bob Arctor
Robert Downey Jr. as James Barris
Winona Ryder as Donna Hawthorne
Woody Harrelson as Ernie Luckman
Rory Cochrane as Charles Freck

Based on a Philip K. Dick novel, adapted and directed by Richard Linklater.

Complete information is available from this IMDB page.

Buy the DVD from: Amazon.com
or Amazon.ca

Buy the Blu-Ray from: Amazon.com
or Amazon.ca

Buy the HD-DVD from: Amazon.com
or Amazon.ca

Past movie reviews can be found here.

Synopsis

Agent Fred is an undercover narcotics agent tasked to take down drug dealer Bob Arctor. In the course of his investigation, Fred became addicted to Substance D, a nasty drug that often results in split personalities. In Agent Fred’s case, the other personality is drug dealer Bob Arctor.

High Point

Through the movie, I was planning to name the interactions between Ernie and James, but in true Philip K. Dick fashion, the last few minutes blew that out of the water. What’s more, the dedication that heads off the credits is at least as effective as anything in the movie.

Low Point

The visual nature of the film lets the viewer know the relationship between Arctor and Fred right from the start. I think it would have been much more effective if they’d left the man inside the suit unrevealed until the last possible moment.

The Review

The originality suffers only because it’s an adaptation. The animation style Linklater used in Waking Life is also present here, and it suits Dick’s narrative incredibly well. There are numerous anti-drug movies out there, but Requiem for a Dream is the only one I can think of that packs this sort of punch. I give it 5 out of 6.

The animation is excellent. In painting carefully over live actors, the animators have created a realistic feel, allowing the actual acting and facial expressions to shine through, while still creating a surreal look to the world created in this film. Everything feels just a tiny bit off, which is exactly as it should be for this story. I give it 5 out of 6.

The story is pure Dick. We’ve got loads of dark humour, lively characters, incorrect perceptions, mindblowing twists, and political commentary. The bottom line is that it’s entertaining, unpredictable, and meaningful, which are three characteristics of a story I value very highly. I give it 6 out of 6.

The acting is great. The animation allows the expressions of the actors to come through, which is a wonderful asset. The casting, including some of Hollywood’s best known “rehab residents,” was also well done, injecting a bias toward passionate work by those involved. I give it 6 out of 6.

The emotional response, as you’ve likely guessed by now, is fantastic. It’s a great story all the way, with one heck of a denouement. I give it 6 out of 6.

The production is fantastic. The highly stylized piece has an absolute and undeniable unique feel, with the slightly erratic edges on the world getting a little more pronounced as the amount of drugs in the characters’ bodies increases. This movie just looks and sounds great. I give it 6 out of 6.

Overall, this is just a great film, and one that will slip under the “anti-sf” radar of most of the populace. It’s not perfect, but it’s close enough that I’ll still give it 6 out of 6.

In total, A Scanner Darkly receives 40 out of 42, and should be paired with Requiem for a Dream as mandatory viewing for those at the age and stage in their lives that drug use is starting to look appealing.

6 replies on “Saturday Movie Review – “A Scanner Darkly””

  1. Trekkie says:

    I guess I watched different version…
    …or I was in a weird mood when I saw it. Because your ratings & mine are about polar opposites. When I went to watch it the only thing I knew that was different was the unique animation style.

    When it was done, I wanted the two hours of my life back worse than I did when I saw Teen Wolf.

    Might have to check it out again.

    • Beo says:

      Re: I guess I watched different version…

      When it was done, I wanted the two hours of my life back worse than I did when I saw Teen Wolf.

      Hah.

      I dunno. I found the review to be pretty spot-on, except for the animation bit. Maybe it was just me, but I found the animation in the movie too distracting. It’s a wonderful technique (especially for still photos), but my eyes can’t seem to track it. People would be moving around and doing things, and I could not, for the life of me, keep my eyes focused on what was going on. I’d either zone out, or it would take a few seconds after every cut to realize what had happened in it. Maybe that’s just me…

      • quantaman says:

        Re: I guess I watched different version…

        When it was done, I wanted the two hours of my life back worse than I did when I saw Teen Wolf.

        Hah.

        I dunno. I found the review to be pretty spot-on, except for the animation bit. Maybe it was just me, but I found the animation in the movie too distracting. It’s a wonderful technique (especially for still photos), but my eyes can’t seem to track it. People would be moving around and doing things, and I could not, for the life of me, keep my eyes focused on what was going on. I’d either zone out, or it would take a few seconds after every cut to realize what had happened in it. Maybe that’s just me…

        I really enjoyed the animation (and the rest of the movie as well). I felt the animation was necessary to be able to relate to the characters. Normally films handle people being high by just showing warped camera angles and stuff, however here the characters didn’t have individual high periods but a constant warped perception of reality. I thought the rotoscoping did a good job of making their entire reality seem surreal, and their reactions more credible, since the characters never were completely lucid.

        I also though that Keanu Reeves did a good job which confirms my theory that he can only play characters who are stoned, stunned, or some combination of the two :)

      • y42 says:

        Re: I guess I watched different version…

        When it was done, I wanted the two hours of my life back worse than I did when I saw Teen Wolf.

        Hah.

        I dunno. I found the review to be pretty spot-on, except for the animation bit. Maybe it was just me, but I found the animation in the movie too distracting. It’s a wonderful technique (especially for still photos), but my eyes can’t seem to track it. People would be moving around and doing things, and I could not, for the life of me, keep my eyes focused on what was going on. I’d either zone out, or it would take a few seconds after every cut to realize what had happened in it. Maybe that’s just me…

        That’s not just you, that’s what’s brilliant about it: We see the world the way he sees the world.

  2. Chillum says:

    Nostalgia
    Good movie, really enjoyed it. If there’s one thing Keanu Reeves can do well (and ONLY one thing..) it’s ‘permanently bewildered.
    Reminded me of my university days somehow :D

  3. calyxa says:

    True to the book
    It’d been a very long time since I read the book, but it seemed to me that this animated adaptation was pretty true to the book in most ways.

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