Monday, July 10, 2006

A Scanner Darkly - reposted review

I saw that A Scanner Darkly opened up in a few cities this weekend, and should be opening more in the upcoming weeks.

I saw the film back in December, after a shitty day. And I'm a huge Richard Linklater fan, so I am biased. And I met him afterwards, which was a thrill and a half. I digress. In honor of the film finally being released, I decided to repost (instead of write anew because I'm lazy) the review I had written. I'm sure things have changed since I saw it, but I really did love it. In fact, I believe I put it on my list of top ten flicks from 2005.

Here goes, enjoy:


So, I come home right after seeing Kong, and I'm checking the email, when what do I see but an invitation to a test screening of Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly. Hells yes, I am going. I am an unabashed Richard Linklater fan, and I was curious as hell to see how he'd adapt Philip K Dick's futuristic tale of drugs and the men responsible for maintaining the law with these drugs. I knew Linklater was doing it in the same animated rotoscoping form he used with Waking Life, which intrigued me even more. I could not wait to see this movie, and a chance to see it, even if it's not completely finished yet, was something I would not pass up on.

And I'm glad I didn't. A Scanner Darkly delivers. At least, it delivered up to my expectations. They may be very high expectations, though, I realize. It is a dense movie, that is not going to be easy to understand in one viewing. Even I'm not 100% sure about what happened. (Not as bad as with Syriana, though).

Here's the basic story: In the near future (eight years or so, if I remember correctly), in Orange County, California, there is a substance that is sweeping the area called Substance D. Undercover narcotics agent FRED is trying to infiltrate the confidence of a dealer named Bob Arctor. Bob Arctor is a dealer as well as a user of the D. He lives in a crazy home, sharing space with users Barris (Robert Downey Jr) and Luckman (Woody Harrelson). He casually dates coke whore Donna (Winona Ryder), and is occasionally visited by Freck (Rory Cochrane), who is so deep into the use of D, he constatnly sees aphids that aren't there, as well as other things. Oh, and Arctor is so heavy into the D himself, that he doesn't realize that he's also Fred, the agent pursuing him.

That's not really giving anything away. If you pick up a copy of the book, it tells you that right on the back. Fred's brain has split into two battling hemispheres that are constantly playing tricks on him. He's not exactly sure what is real, and what we witness is his degradation through this world. Paranoia sets in, big time. I won;t tell you where the story ends up, but it is definitely not what you'd expect. Thankfully, it's also not a mindless ending, or an ending that's changed to entice masses, like most of Dick's work.

Now, the film looks gorgeous. As I mentioned, it's the rotoscope process used in Waking Life, where the action was shot with the live actors on digital video, and then animators painstakingly draw over every frame into this crazy stylized hyper real world. Some found that to be irritating in Waking Life, but I enjoyed it. It was something new and exciting visually. A Scanner Darkly ups the ante, because the animation remains, for the most part, consistent, as opposed to different styles throughout Waking Life. The important thing is, it looks great. An important plot device is a suit that constantly changes it's appearances, so as if to blend into a crowd with hundreds of different parts flashing. I can't describe it, and if this movie were done live action, it would look impossibly fake. But here, it works with the environments, and it's awesome to see.

The scanner referred to in the title are the surveillance devices installed to spy on citizens. the same scanner Fred uses to watch Bob Arctor and his insane friends' ramblings and paranoid delusions. These scenes are highly animated, from both visual look, and from the actors within.

The acting works perfectly, by the way. Keanu does confused well. But he looks badass, and is quite fitting. Downey and Harrelson steal the show with incredibly animated characters. Who never shut up. There's a scene where Downey creates a silencer for his pistol that has to be seen. He's really good in this. Reminds me of Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys. (More on that later). And he and Harrelson act off each other wonderfully. Winona Ryder is good as well. (Funny to note how all these actors have been associated with drugs and trouble making throughout their careers, and here they all are turning in outstanding work). And Rory Cochrane, who you might remember from Linklater's Dazed and Confused as the stoner Slater ("check ya later"), is awesome as Freck. He's far too gone to make any kind of sense, who are usually the people who make the most amount of sense at the end. But he has this fantastic scene where, well, I'm not gonna say how he got there, but i will tell you it ends with a thousand eyed alien reading a list of his sins. It's gotta be seen to be believed. But he pulls it off well.

Linklater has worked wonders. You can tell he really wanted to tell this story in a visual way. And the ending of the big is kind of hard to pull off, but he managed to do it. Kudos. But there's never a doubt in my mind that he's in charge, and showing u what we need to see. It's very exciting filmmaking.

Since it was a test screening, I realize that it might change when it's released theatrically. I hope it doesn't. (Although, I would like to hear a new Radiohead score, if that rumor turns out to be true. The temp score had some good Radiohead Kid A and beyond songs scattered throughout, and that worked nicely, but an all new score would kick an obscene amount of ass). It's a tough movie to understand, and I definitely want to see it again, but I feel that general audiences would probably not appreciate it all too much. I realize that sounds kind of elitist, but I have a feeling that most people won't like it. I am not one of those people, and I loved this movie.

I actually ran into Linklater after the screening. This was kind of a trip for me (as I was still disoriented after the movie), but I managed to get myself together, shake his hand, and express what a fan I am, and how cool it was to meet him. We spoke a little about the movie, and he seemed kind of nervous about the test screening process. I agreed with him, and felt that marketing this will be a very hard sell. And it will be a hard sell, but I know this movie has a fair amount of movie lovers looking forward to it. I tell you, it's worth it. In hindsight, I should have asked him if I could buy him a beer after the whole studio process was done with, but I barely held it together as is. If he reads this, Mr. Linklater, I'm a huge fan, I loved the movie, and if you're ever back in town, I'll buy you that beer.

(Also, in hindsight, I should have asked him about the Radiohead score rumor, but still, it was an honor to meet one of my heroes/role models).

On the sheet of paper they made me fill out after viewing the movie, it asked "does this movie remind you of any other movies?" I totally drew a blank while responding, but I had some time to think about it, and I came up with two. 12 Monkeys and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I realize they're both Terry Gilliam films, and this movie is as close to Gilliam as Linklater will get. It has that aura of paranoia, wrapped around drugs, filled with crazy performances, topped with damn fine visuals. They're same in tone, mostly. If you like interesting films, then I can't recommend this movie enough. When it comes out in March, I suggest you go see it opening weekend, or the very first chance you get. Unique, challenging, and a feast for the eyes, this is a movie for your brain.

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