A SCANNER DARKLY -- First Viewing:
I found it troubling and fascinating, okay? It feels very free-form, almost as if it was just kind of improvised as they went along. The plot, such as it is, seems to concern a character known alternatively as Fred and Bob, depending who is talking to him. Fred/Bob lives in a house with two freeloading buddies, and Fred/Bob seems to also be a cop charged with observing his two freeloading buddies. There's a lot about a terribly addictive drug called Substance D, which apparently is so addictive that the world is divided into two camps: those who are addicted to Substance D, and those who haven't tried it yet. In order to better observe his two freeloading buddies, Fred/Bob has become addicted to Substance D. Or something.
I'll confess that I found it very hard to follow. Part of the problem is the animation. The film was apparently shot in regular live action, and then each frame was painstakingly rotoscoped and turned into a weird hybrid of animation and live action. This allows for some dazzling effects, especially a sort of anonymity suit that Fred/Bob and other police officers wear that allows them to be almost invisible: different faces and body parts are constantly appearing and changing and morphing as you watch. Cool. Unfortunately, it also gets a little distracting. You can get so lost in just watching the anonymity suits that you can lose the thread of conversations. Even worse, you can get so lost in just watching the fascinatingly dreamlike way in which walls shift and move, or the way somebody's hair moves, or the way Robert Downey Jr. and Woody Harrelson seem to have been born to be animated in this way that you can lose track of what is going on altogether. That's not really a bad thing. Or is it? After only one viewing, I can't really be sure.
I remember thinking that this film is not at all what I was expecting, which lead me to wonder what in fact I had been expecting. This made me remember that A SCANNER DARKLY is a film by Richard Linklater, who tends to play fast and loose with narrative conventions. Don't get me wrong, his films all have beginnings middles and ends, and they're usually in that order. His films just don't seem to have beginnings middles and ends in the way that most movies have them. It isn't unusual to see a Linklater film and wonder: what was that? Repeat viewings will usually reveal what is going on. Linklater is much more like Mike Leigh than Steven Spielberg. I happen to love Mr. Linklater for that.
Okay. I'll say it because it must be said. The big problem with the film is Keanu Reeves. Even extensive roto-scoping can't save his "performance." You'd think that a character having identity issues and drug problems might play to whatever alleged strengths Reeves possesses as an actor, but no. There is no more embarassing display in recent American cinema of sheer thespic ineptitude than the scenes involving Reeves trying to keep up with Robert Downey Jr. and Woody Harrelson. It is like watching Laurel and Hardy and George W. Bush. Music Cue: "one of these things is not like the others..."
Of all sad words of tongue or pen
The saddest are these:
"It stars Keanu Reeves."
Bottom line: I'll see it again. There's enough of interest to make me want to.