A Scanner Darkly
Director: Richard Linklater. Animated. Cast: Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Winona Ryder, Woody Harrelson, Rory Cochrane, Angela Rawna, Chamblee Ferguson. Screenplay: Richard Linklater (based on the novel by Philip K. Dick).

The best news about A Scanner Darkly is that is isn't as restive and driftless as Waking Life, Richard Linklater's last foray into rotoscope animation and the Big Questions of Existence. The animation effects here are engaging in their impressionism without smothering the pulse of the film's characters or standing in the way of any trajectory from scene to scene. Speaking of trajectory, Scanner also charts a solid balance between conveying the particulars of its own paranoid, Philip K. Dick-derived story and miming the atomized dispersal of a doomed, drugged-out personality. Motivations, relationships, even the confidence that one is who one thinks one is: they all fray over the course of A Scanner Darkly, and without being quite so distastefully show-offy in its formal devices as Requiem for a Dream—you take the film's look for granted after a while—the film succeeds as a movie about drugs that addicts as well as total non-users will probably recognize and understand. But, the down side? For all of its ambitions and technical complexity, and for all the apt reasoning behind its storytelling decisions, the narrative of A Scanner Darkly is never particularly engrossing. I was never glad I was watching it, or even very appreciative of the fact that it was made. Reeves, Ryder, and Harrelson all bespeak their customary limits as actors, especially in a story as complex as this one, but even the nimble Robert Downey Jr. can't transcend a tale where "dystopian" futures, sinister corporations, and an undercover narc turning into his own target all feel like overly recycled tropes. One admires Dick's prescience in seeing all of this coming, but the world has so deeply corroborated the tones and even the details of his visions that they now feel a tad redundant, and maybe even clichéd. B–

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