Review: A Scanner Darkly
And so my summer of Keanu has come to an end. And to think it featured nary a "woah" or even a glimpse of black latex and Laurence Fishburne in shades. But it did feature a magical mailbox (see The Lake House—actually don't, oh never mind it was alright) and with A Scanner Darkly it features a groovily interesting mind-bending time at the movies.
If you're reading this you likely fall into one of two categories. You know Philip K. Dick like I do—ie. you've never read a lick of his stuff but enjoyed everything from Blade Runner to Total Recall and Minority Report (he said...conveniently leaving out John Woo's Paycheck) or you KNOW Philip K. Dick and you've savored his work and probably been salivating for some time for this flick.
From my illiterate vantage point, A Scanner Darkly succeeds in what it seems to be setting out to do—to be a trippy series of extended conversations on paranoia, surveillance, and addiction. In a nutshell our story concerns Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) an undercover narc soooo deep undercover that he may not even be sure who he really is anymore. He's trying to track down the source of a dangerously addictive drug called Substance D. But don't be fooled by descriptions of cops and drug busts, this is nearly as talky a pic as director Richard Linklater has done (okay not Before Sunrise/Sunset talky but still).
A Scanner Darkly turns out to be like My Dinner with Andre on acid or probably more clearly like Linklater's other rotoscoping animated excursion Waking Life with a splash of sci-fi. As for this technology Linklater's clearly found a love for, it works here far better than it did in his first effort. The jittery, constantly fluid movements of these characters suits them and the story of addicts and paranoids who can't sit still even as all they do is hole up in a house sitting still.
As you probably know the fun loving supporting cast includes Winona Ryder (oh Winona just come back to us already and make another go at this career thing!), Woody Harrelson, and Robert Downey Jr. The latter, in nervy manic mode, has never been more charmingly bizarre. And that’s saying a lot. Just check out his Australian reporter turn in Natural Born Killers to see him turned up to eleven.
A Scanner Darkly isn’t the most riveting trip through the imaginative mind of Philip K. Dick but it might be the most emotionally resonant in the end. It’s a film I’ve thought about more than I thought I would back when I was sipping my diet coke thanking God I wasn’t watching Johnny Mnemonic.