A Scanner Darkly
Review By: Joe

Making the conscious decision (not really) to support Winona rather than Johnny, I went and saw A Scanner Darkly this weekend.

I must say that any movie that stars Keanu Reeves, with the exception of Bill & Ted Get Things Started is a bit suspect. I mean, yeah, there was the first Matrix movie and all but, boy, did things start falling apart after that one, huh? If you'll be so kind as to recall, Keanu Reeves was, at one time, openly ridiculed for his poor acting talent. People seemed to find the notion of him getting beyond the role of Ted as laughable. You saw his movies, sure, but you got to feel superior the whole time because Keanu was such a dummy. He's not far off from being a male equivalent to Denise Richards. She shouldn't be in acting, she should be in porn, but damned if I won't watch something with her in it anyway (boobs).

Anyhow, those crazy Wachowski brothers managed to rocket Keanu to stardom, and now he fronts a bunch of weird vaguely sci-fi films. You really have to question the judgement of a director that believes Keanu can carry a movie and I thought School of Rock was pretty dumb, but Richard Linklater mostly plays to Keanu's strengths with A Scanner Darkly; his strengths being, um, not talking.

Shut up! Don't...say...a word!

A Scanner Darkly uses the rotoscoping effect that Richard Linklater clearly still finds cool from back when he used it for Waking Life. Lucky for him, even though the same effect has turned up in McDonald's commercials and other such atrocities, it is still cool to see a whole movie full of it. The basic idea of rotoscoping is filming actors doing their thing normally, then using computer machines to add animation over it. The resulting effect is a pretty unique one as it still feels like you're watching a live action film, but with an added touch of animation. So crazy!

The nice thing about this is that, somehow, it allows for a bit of overacting and, rather smartly, Richard Linklater cast people who do just that. Well, I don't know if Rory Cochrane (I don't think I've ever seen any of his movies before) or Woody Harrelson do, but they do here, and Robert Downey Jr., well, Robert Downey Jr. does a great job of playing what he always plays: Robert Downey Jr. For those of you unfamiliar with this character, he's a bit of a nut, he talks fast, he's an asshole, and he's on drugs. These characters all (Rory Cochrane especially) steal the spotlight, and Keanu is little more than an observer in the proceedings. It actually works very well.

Winona Ryder is also involved and, oddly enough, her animated counterpart almost doesn't look like Winona Ryder. She isn't, unlike the other people, called upon to overact very much, but she acts (as is standard of Winona Ryder) quite well and it's nice to see her here...AND HER ANIMATED BOOBS! YES!!!

I liked Waking Life okay. However, it wasn't so much a narrative film as it was a series of (animated) conversations about dreams. What's interesting about A Scanner Darkly is there's a decent bit more of a plot in place (although it's convoluted and often deliberately vague), but it doesn't go too far beyond this. It's mostly about the characters interacting with one another in unconventionally long sequences of conversation. If you're an impatient tosser, this probably is not the film for your wack-ass. I think the film gravitates towards lengthy, still shots because it becomes clear fairly quickly that the rotoscoping doesn't hold up too well when camera movement becomes involved.

Panning and tilting and such are used noticeably sparingly. Whenver they are, however, objects and people's faces appear to float independently of the rest of the scene and the whole rotoscoping thing kind of collapses a bit. Beyond that, however, it's a very cool look and is used in a number of interesting ways. Much like I felt with Silent Hill, there are a number of things in this movie that make it feel a bit like watching a video game. Most especially, the "scramble suits" that Keanu and a number of the other characters in the film wear, which give undercover cops the appearence of having constantly changing characteristics, as in every portion of them from their head to their toe is always changing. It's a very odd effect, and one that you actually end up watching for quite a while. People carry on whole conversations while you watch their bodies changing endlessly. I don't know if I'm right to say it smells a bit videogamey, but it is, at any rate, a very different sort of thing to see in a movie.

I'm not even gonna talk about the plot so much. It's weird and there's a lot of jibber-jabber but, in the end, there appears to be some semblance of sense, or enough to make me happy anyway. One thing I will say is that this is an unexpectedly comedic film. A huge portion of it was, to my surprise, actually just about watching a group of stoners freak out and act stupid around each other. It's quite entertaining and some of it is very witty. Plus, some of the really serious issues (suicide and freaking out on drugs) are presented in a brilliantly funny fashion, while still managing to not candy-coat them. I suppose Phillip K. Dick is owed some of the praise for managing this, but it's brought to life very well here.

By the by, according to the credits, every single licensed song in the film was by Radiohead (except for one just by frontman Thom Yorke). The music was unobtrusive and fit well, so I now understand the purpose of Radiohead's music: to provide a background for weird movies. Finally, it all makes sense!

Bye, Rory!!!

IGN is, for some reason, hosting the first twenty-four minutes of this film to watch for free (after you enter in a birthdate to verify you're eighteen years of age), so I would suggest watching it and see if you're interested in going beyond that. It's weird, it's probably a little too heavy for its own good, its got Keanu in the lead, the rotoscoping can be a bit iffy, and the title makes no real grammatical sense, but it's not like any movie I've ever seen, really. Plus, although I think some of it is a bit pretentious and overdone, I watched the first twenty-four minutes on IGN again after I saw the whole film and already noticed tons of stuff I missed before, which is pretty darn cool.

I would say this film is worth your time and money. Take it from me, I'm crazy.

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