Thursday, January 04, 2007

Don't Blink: A Scanner Darkly


It's hard to review a visually stunning movie.

I come from a line of people who probably should have died out for staring aimlessly at a shiny rock until a dinosaur eats us.

This predisposition toward aesthetics sometimes clouds my ability to be objective. I realized this when I let slide the failures of "The Phantom Menace" for almost a year because the presentation was so impressive.

Of course I came to my senses when George Lucas decided to show the world he can't write or direct his way out of a paper sack.

Movies like "Sin City" and "Sky Captain" wow me with visual tricks, though sometimes the storyline or plot devices fail to cover the gaps as in other films.

CGI is so prevalent in our cinematic society that kids' shows on the Disney Channel are now completely computer generated. It's so simple to pull "Toy Story"-like effects. Even modern-day television packs the special-effects engine of a blockbuster movie, as the show "Battlestar Galacica" proves episodically.

So when I say the eye-candy of "A Scanner Darkly" impressed me, I want you to understand my full meaning.

Now let's not be crazy here. This movie has some flaws inherent to any film about drugs.

It can be...how shall I put it...hard to follow.

This isn't necessarily a major problem, as films such as "Memento" and "Requiem for a Dream" proved that a convoluted plot and trippy visuals can stimulate an audience. Granted, these movies were intentionally off kilter.

But so is "A Scanner Darkly."

To sum up the plot, I would have to take a few mind altering substances, but I'll do my best to give you the sober version.

Robert Arctor is an addict. He has been taken the newest trend drug, D, in order to maintain his cover as a...well a loser druggy. He has infiltrated a small-time group of druggies and wants to work his way to the top.

The problem is that D, unlike some of your lesser hard drugs which only lead to amputated limbs and deviated septums, fries the brain in an amazing way.

Succint to say, the right and left hemispheres of his brain are disconnected and competing. This creates an obvious amount of confusion, both for him and you.

Robert suffers from incredible hallucinations, paranoia, and the usual feelings of depression.

Keanu Reeves ("The Matrix") does a passable job of acting...confused.

See, there is the main problem with casting Keanu. He portrays the stoic stoner well, but mainly because the only emotion he can muster is stark confusion.

This works when he plays a Jesus-esque superhero in a computer-controlled post-apocalyptic future, but not so much when he needs to wax philosophical.

His dialogue comes off as hokey, if not worse, for the entirety of the movie, with one exception.

At the very end, he plays a husk of a man, his brain all but gone. Here he shines as the best actor in the movie.

Now, the overall plotline of the movie is actually pretty good. There are conspiracies and backstabbing and people aren't who they appear to be...it's all been done before, but it's done pretty well here. Some of the twists are so readable its pathetic, but for the most part they do ok.

The characters in the film are enjoyable, especially the practically unnecesary Woody Harrelson("Natural Born Killers"). His antics are hilarious, even they are based on the fact that drugs have melted his brain.

Robert Downey Jr ("Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang") is also perfect in this film, though I have no idea how he prepared for the role of strung-out-junkie. Must have taken years to perfect that character...wow.

Winona Ryder ("Beetleguise") plays an easily forgettable love interest, but Keanu plays an understandably apathetic lover so I guess it evens out.

The main focus on this movie has been the visual style, so I guess I should address it.

It's gorgeous. However they managed to pull of this level of cell-shading, I applaud them.

But pretty sights don't make a pretty movie.

I have friends who look down on this film, and I can understand, but I won't deny its appeal.

This is a well put together piece of cinema. If you can look past Keanu and the sometimes missing plot, you'll find a rather fun hour and some odd minutes of why not to use drugs.

Now, if you'll excuse me, a bagel is happening in my kitchen and I can't be late.

1 comment:

sarah said...

sierra disagrees. she liked it.

and bagel calling or not, please use the correct words when writing. go fix your silly misuse of "taken" in place of "taking."

overall, not a bad review, but certainly not your best. stick to B movies, buddy, not artsy movies.

or, you could be cool and go see "pan's labyrinth", which is freaking amazing.

love you, pooky!