A Scanner Darkly (15)

ANDREW CLARKE Question: When is a live-action film not a live-action film, but a cartoon? Answer: When it's A Scanner Darkly - the closest the movies have come to replicating a graphic novel on screen.

ANDREW CLARKE

Question: When is a live-action film not a live-action film, but a cartoon? Answer: When it's A Scanner Darkly - the closest the movies have come to replicating a graphic novel on screen.

This satisfying thriller set in the near future was shot as live action but director Richard Linklater, responsible for such cult movies as Slacker, Dazed and Confused and Before Sunrise, treated the whole film with an animation effect in post-production to give the film a comic book look.

The film, a dark tale of police ambivalence to drug crime and the effects of long-term addiction, is a modern film noir based on a story by Blade Runner author and sci-fi genius Philip K Dick.

Keanu Reeves is an undercover cop who is close to losing his identity. He is posing as a drug user and possible supplier of a new fashionable, highly addictive narcotic known as Substance D. However, he discovers that perhaps he is too much the method actor and is rapidly becoming addicted to the drug for real.

These undercops are all issued with shape-shifting suits so their real identities are never disclosed - even to their colleagues. This leads to the situation where his boss gives him the task of investigating himself. So he spends all day watching videotapes of himself and his drug-addled slacker friends James Barris (Robert Downey Jnr) and Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson).

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In many ways this element of the film harks back to the classic movie The Big Clock starring Ray Milland and Maureen O'Sullivan, in which a detective is set up to solve a case which has him as the murder suspect - a film which Kevin Costner remade as No Way Out.

Linklater always lets the characters tell the story rather than using them as ciphers to drive a plot forward. They are complex individuals and this helps ground the fantastical story in a kind of believable reality.

Downey Jnr and Harrelson are superb as the drug-addicted losers who are constantly talking round in circles and haunted by incessant paranoia, while Reeves does a tremendous job playing a man haunted by his past and who knows he is sliding into a pit of addiction himself.

Downey Jnr, never one to back away from showing himself in a bad light, revels in his role as a back-stabbing junky and nearly steals the film. Also it's great to see Winona Ryder back on screen and playing an ambiguous figure as Reeves' girlfriend. But it swiftly becomes clear that she too has something to hide.

The animation is first-rate and is only compromised on a couple of occasions when the exterior landscape looks a little too photo-real - it is as if they ran out to time to finish the process.

The look of the film is enough to hold your attention but it has enough plot developments to keep things interesting and there is a lovely little twist at the end. But you do have to pay attention to the dialogue, which drops into stoner-speak for the three-way conversations between Reeves, Downey Jnr and Harrelson.

A Scanner Darkly is a thrilling, highly effective movie which has to be praised for giving cinema audiences something new and different in a summer which has been disappointing in the extreme.

 

 

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