A Scanner Darkly

May 18, 2010
f you look at Richard Linklater's filmography, you'll find he's made quite a variety of films. From the comedic School of Rock to the thought-provoking Waking Life, Linklater has covered a number of genres in his films. This particular one, A Scanner Darkly, is based off of the Phillip K. Dick novel of the same name and mixes the themes of paranoia and addiction with sci-fi story elements.

In a future "seven years from now", America has lost the war on drugs. Ever since Substance D - a highly addictive drug made from blue flowers - hit the market, the US government hasn't had any luck whatsoever in bringing drug use down. In fact, according to the statistics in this future, about 1/4th of all Americans are addicted to some form of drug. In this world, though, we follow undercover cop Bob Arctor as he immerses himself into the drug world to infiltrate the Substance D supply. However, the role of an undercover cop isn't easy, and Arctor soon finds himself struggling with Substance D as well.

I'll get to the good element of this film in a bit, but I'd first like to point out how muddled and confusing this narrative is. It's an interesting premise with interesting characters, but the sequences of events to hard to follow due to how rambling the execution is. Because nothing's ever explained, we have to figure out this future by ourselves and that's a difficult task when everyone's spouting off technobabble. It gets better eventually, but there are still plenty of dead ends in the narrative. For instance, there's a moment in the film where it's suggested someone sabotaged Arctor's car. It's meant to be mysterious, yet we never hear about it again.

Moving on, however, I found the characters - as well as the performances - to be really interesting. I usually despise Keanu Reeves, but his character was pretty interesting and his performance was actually pretty good. he wasn't the most memorable character around, but he was certainly likable. If there's any character that was simply "the best", I'd have to say that'd be Robert Downey Jr.'s Barras. A witty, quirky, and slightly homicidal conspiracy theorist, the character was just as hilarious as he was fascinating to watch and Downey Jr.'s performance as the "sarcastic guy " was fantastic as usual.

If you watch this film, or even just watch the trailer, you'll know that it's definitely visually impressive. With a rotoscoping technique, the film was shot in live-action with the footage being animated over with RotoShop. It's no doubt that a lot of work was put into these visuals, and the workmanship shines through brilliantly in how great this movie looks. Not only does it set the tone, but it's so good to look at as well.

Though the film can be a bit of a rambling mess in its narrative, the rest of the film is pretty good. The characters are cool, the performances are great, and the visuals just look fantastic. A Scanner Darkly may not be a great movie, but it's certainly quite good.

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