A Scanner Darkly (2006)
Another in a long line of Philip K. Dick adaptations, 'A Scanner Darkly' joins the ranks of "the good ones". Scanner is a bit different in that it's a rotoscoped animated film, which means it uses a type of animation that involves painting over live action performances to create a distinctive stylized look. Richard Linklater employed this technique in his film 'Waking Life', and he uses it again here to good effect.
The film tells the story of a man named Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves), who works undercover for the police to find the source of a deadly new drug that's out on the street. Arctor's true appearance is unknown to his colleagues because of the use of a 'scramble suit', a type of personal cloaking device that obfuscates a person's features; the 'scramble' effect is rendered quite nicely via the animation. He infiltrates a small group of drug users, comprising his girlfriend Donna (Winona Ryder), James (Robert Downey Jr.), and Ernie (Woody Harrelson), but things start getting complicated when it appears that Arctor himself is a prime suspect amongst the group (and the cops don't know that 'Arctor' is the undercover cop because of his anonymity). Paranoia, fear, and confusion creep in as the effects of the drug, which he has also been consuming, begin to cause Arctor to lose touch with reality and his own identity.
I guess the question that comes to mind regarding this film is, 'is there a point to it being animated'? The answer to that would be yes - I think the stylization is appropriate for the hallucinogenic subject matter, and it certainly comes into play in big way with the scramble suit. Overall the film is very good; it's a thought provoking mystery, it's funny, and with its frenetic energy it's quite engaging. There's also a lot of dialogue heavy scenes that are a lot of fun, particularly those involving Robert Downey Jr. It's a weird, twisty tale and there are some nice surprises along the way, and the ending is surprisingly poignant. The performances are quite good, with Reeves yet again managing to land a role that suits his particular persona to a T. Robert Downey Jr. is excellent, and is provided a strong foil in the form of Woody Harrelson. Winona Ryder is probably the weakest of the bunch, but even her performance is more than adequate.
Ultimately 'A Scanner Darkly' is a worthwhile film. The interesting visuals and energetic soundtrack together complement a unique story to deliver a very memorable sci-fi experience. Now I just have to read the book to see how it compares!