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:

Buy the Blu-Ray from:

Buy the HD-DVD from:

Past movie reviews can be found here.


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.