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Rory Cochrane
as Charles Freck

Robert Downey Jr.
as James Barris

Woody Harrelson
as Ernie Luckman

Keanu Reeves
as Bob Arctor

Winona Ryder
as Donna Hawthorne

Written and Directed
by Richard Linklater

Running Time: 1:40

Rated R
for drug and sexual content,
language and a brief violent image.



A Scanner Darkly was an interesting movie that was made 'special' by its animation technique.


Bob Arctor works as an undercover cop trying to rid the streets of a new drug known as Substance D. And by undercover, I mean, undercover, as there is a new body suit that has been developed which allows the wearer to morph into a countless number of people. No one knows who is under that suit, not even his superior officers. Imagine Bob's surprise, then, when he is asked to start spying on himself and his friends. No one is who they appear to be and at every turn, someone could be spilling secrets to the other side. But the biggest secret of all won't be revealed until the final frames of the film.


The big draw to A Scanner Darkly is its revolutionary animation technique known as interpolated rotoscoping where you film live-action actors and overlay it with animation. The director, Richard Linklater, used this technique before in his movie Waking Life. So the visuals of the film are nothing new. It does make for a more interesting type of movie because you have the look of real actors, such as Keanu Reeves, but you can animate them to make them do different things, or to say, have bugs crawling all over them. It opens up a lot of possibilities, and for the most part, they went through that door. Visually the movie was entertaining. I enjoyed feeling like I was watching actors acting, but at the same time, knowing that they were enhanced. But as always, once the 'cool' factor dies down, you need a strong story to keep the movie engaging. The story, at its most basic, involves a guy basically narcing on himself and him having to deal with it. He doesn't realize that he may only be a pawn in a larger game, so for the most part, he has to try and figure out what is happening to him. When you take Substance D, it slowly separates the two halves of your brain so you're not quite sure if what you see before you is really happening or not. And you're also not sure if your friends are who they say they are.

Having Keanu Reeves playing the guy on drugs is a brilliant move because his traditional wooden acting style fits in with someone who's on drugs. This was arguably his best performance to date. Throw in the manic presence of Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson and Rory Cochrane, and the sex appeal of Winona Ryder, and you've got a fine cast thrown into a very dense film. The actors all did wonderfully, which is to be expected in a Linklater film, because he always manages to direct wonderful performances from his actors. The story however wasn't all that entertaining. It's your typical dark view of the future, yet the future looks a lot like current day, just with fancier police uniforms. Substance D is just the newer version of crack and the attempt to eradicate it is equally as futile. The movie really hinges on the likeability of the actors but even that isn't enough to make the movie, for lack of a better word, fun. It wasn't as if I was bored, but there was nothing in the story that I found compelling or different. Beyond the visuals, everything had a been-there, done-that vibe to it. I know everyone has a thing for Phillip K. Dick and his stories, but turning his stories into movies have rarely gone well. But, I suppose they'll keep on trying.


So overall, there was nothing really wrong with A Scanner Darkly, but beyond the look of the movie, there wasn't anything that really compelling. The performances were good, but the story was too dense to capture my interest.

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reviewed 07/06/06

© 2006 Wolfpack Productions

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