A Scanner Darkly (2006)

DVD Cover (Warner Brother)
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Overall Rating 66%
Overall Rating
Ranked #1,119
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Bob Arctor, an undercover policeman, is on a mission to investigate a group distributing a brain-damaging drug called Substance D. In the process, he becomes addicted to the drug himself and begins to lose his own identity. --IMDb
Rory Cochrane
Rory Cochrane
Robert Downey Jr.
Robert Downey Jr.
Mitch Baker
Mitch Baker
Keanu Reeves
Keanu Reeves
Sean Allen
Sean Allen
Review by cky2kendall
Added: October 25, 2006
Few mainstream films over the last few years have really pushed the envelope as far as film-making goes. Off the top of my head, Sin City immediately comes to mind, proving how much CGI and green screens can improve a movie. House Of Flying Daggers showcased how something as simple as colors can make a scene feel much more elegant and stylish. A Scanner Darkly may go up there with them, using a method of animation called rotoshop. Filmed with a regular camcorder, the scenes are then sent onto computer, animated and colored to give a cell-shading sort of effect. It's not often that you see mainstream adult movies that are animated, many of these are imported anime from Japan. But A Scanner Darkly has tried to use a unique style of animation to convey the storyline.

The film is based off the novel of the same name, and is set 7 years in the future, which sees America drastically losing the war against drugs, more specifically a drug simply named D (Commonly referred to in the movie as "Death"). It centers around the life of Bob Arctor (Keanu Reaves), an undercover agent who has been assigned to spy on a group of drug addicts, who include the over-eccentric and always-thinking James Barris (Robert Downey Jr.), the paranoid Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson) and Bob's closed-off girlfriend Donna Hawthorne (Winona Ryder). However, at the police station, all undercover agents are required to wear scramble suits, suits which are made up of thousands of body parts, and interchange all over the wearer's body to keep their identity hidden. While there, under the alias "Hank", he has been told to get to Arctor, a man they believe to be high up in the drug trafficking chain. While simultaneously protecting himself and delivering some sort of results to the police, Bob is still trying to overcome an addiction to D that he has acquired from being part of the household's circle of drug users.

Now, while the movie is visually stunning, with some scenes providing beautiful and amazing graphics, it can be a hard story to follow along at first. Names aren't exactly blurted out much, and with the stunning animation distracting you a little from the script, it does sometimes go off into tangents. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since the cast is small, and once you get who's who, then it's much easier and enjoyable to follow, and you can experience the movie for what it is. As said before, it looks stunning. When I saw the scramble suit for the first time, all I could think was "Wow, how long must it have taken to animate this?!". It's a true testament to the editors, and the animation certainly gives the film an edge with a common theme like drugs. Not only does it look good, but it's also very colorful. For a film centered around such a grim plot, it looks very bright and intense. I suppose giving it a gritty color would be tend to make the film a little boring. Something that should be added is that this isn't just a movie about the drug wars of the future. A lot of the time, we see the friendships unraveling between the group of users, and there are a few laughs to be had throughout (The scene where we see them worrying if Barris' new bike has had gears stolen off it is a good example of this, very funny and at the same time adds some much needed character development).

Another strong feature about this film is the cast. Each main caster performs very well to their character, but it's Downey Jr. who really impressed me. His character seems to think too much for what's good for him, and whether that's the drugs or not, I don't know. But Robert hit it so perfectly, he's easily the best part of the movie. Reeves and Ryder both give great performances together, with lots of close-up shots of Keanu inside the scramble suit where he just looks at the camera showing his acting skills well. All in all, the cast really plays off each other, and at 100 minutes long, you get to know the characters like real people, regardless of whether they are animated or not.

Overall, this is certainly a straight forward movie in terms of it's plot, but it tends to take it's time getting into it, and while the cast do a great job getting each of their own characters across, it's the script and direction that let it down on occasion. This is made up partly by the tremendous job on the animation though, and once you do know what is going on, it tends to be much more fun to watch. Add in a twist I never saw coming at the end, and then another just for good measure, and you get one hell of a movie. Like I said, it's rare that we see animated adult movies nowadays, so this was always going to be judged harshly, especially since it's based off of a novel regarded highly by it's fans. A Scanner Darkly does deliver some good drama based around a dark theme, and adds some not so subtle comedy in for good measure. That's if you can follow the story, of course. 7/10.
Rik #1: Rik - added 02/01/2009, 07:07 AM
I liked this movie.

I tried reading the book, but got lost within 10 pages. I managed about halfway through the first scene in the book. There was just too much science babble.
Lucid Dreams #2: Lucid Dreams - added 05/25/2010, 01:56 AM
Meh, could have been better. 5/10
Roybot #3: Roybot - added 06/06/2010, 05:11 PM

BTW It's called rotoscope
Griffinheart #4: Griffinheart - added 06/06/2010, 10:13 PM
I wasn't a fan of this one. Every scene left me wondering when anything was going to get tied together. Most loose ends got tied off in the last 5-10 minutes, but the rest of the plot felt like an amorphous blob.

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