The first time I saw the trailer for A Scanner Darkly, I thought it could work as a really cool film with style. Any movie that has a unique visual presentation is something I like to check out. For this movie, I couldn’t tell at first if it was live action or animation. Then I noticed that it’s halfway in between. The film is basically the result of filming live action and putting animation right on top. It’s not a bad idea since the theme of the film is drugs, and such a visual technique gives the film a feel of illusion. It’s especially useful for scenes related to hallucinations a few of the characters may have.
The main character is Robert Arctor (Keanu Reeves), a cop going undercover in order to infiltrate a ring distributing a dangerous drug called Substance D. The associates whom he manages to befriend include Donna (Winona Ryder), James Barris (Robert Downey, Jr.), Charles Freck (Rory Cochrane), and Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson). There is suspicion that Arctor has gone in so deep that he himself is a Substance D addict. In a few scenes, he undergoes psychological testing and shows early signs of fumbling on some of the tests he’s given.
Here’s what I liked about the film. First, the animation. At times, it looks real, and other times, it’s partially real and feels eerie along with it. The other thing I liked about the film is how it eventually portrays the horrors and downfalls of drug addiction. This was inspired by Philip K. Dick’s own drug experiences, and he dedicated the story to those who were unfortunate to have died or suffered serious illness from drug addiction.
But all of this is outweighed by how much I didn’t like the film. What should have been included with the above is a good plot. I was expecting some kind of conflict or two involving Arctor as he is trying to do his job while fighting his own demons. Instead, the movie went on and on with dull scenes, and with a series of such scenes one after the other, my interest in the film began to decline. By the end, I was very confused by what just happened in the movie. Even the ending confused me. Now, if you’re a fan of thought-provoking science-fiction or Philip K. Dick himself, that’s one thing. For the rest of us, the film scores points for style but not the script.
So I was unfortunately disappointed by the film halfway through. It started out OK and got boring instead of exciting. It lacked the intrigue I look for in any kind of thriller. The cast was good and were chosen well. It’s just that the script they had to follow didn’t move along fast enough. But I will say this. Philip K. Dick did create this story out of experience, and I think A Scanner Darkly gets credit for that. Again, fans of this writer and similar stories will certain enjoy A Scanner Darkly, unlike the rest of us who are neither.
Anthony’s Rating: 3/10