Richard Linklater delves artfully into politics and addiction in the dramatic thriller A Scanner Darkly.
Starring Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey, Jr., Winona Ryder, and Woody Harrelson, a hypnotic quality is felt in the film even if the adaptation of Philip K. Dick's prescient novel doesn't go as deep as what was penned back in 1977.
Flash forward seven years to the setting where a hirsute Bob Arctor (Reeves, better here than in The Lake House) appears to be a drug dealer. He happens to be a detective directed to put himself under surveillance.
Bob's appearance is distorted because of a "scramble suit" he dons. That keeps his colleagues at a distance. Also, his drug-addled friends (Downey, Jr., Harrelson, Ryder, and Rory Cochrane) are monitored for their habits, which can be on the vicious side.
This talkative adaptation by Linklater (Tape, The School of Rock) gets into the addictive drug known as Substance D which makes one lose their grip on reality. Apparently, the cure only exists at a rehabilitation facility, New Path.
Similar to his surreal "Waking Life", Linklater offers a painterly quality by rotoscoping interpolation, animating framed live-action scenes. The detail has a way to illuminate the sense of reality, especially as Arctor experiences it. The perception into hallucination comes across noticeably with shifting, multi-hued imagery.
The normally low-key Reeves is able to induce one into his mind-bending existence as he desires the mundane. The theme of being used for something involuntarily has been established in other works by Dick, including Minority Report, more grippingly adapted for the silver screen.
Still, the life impressed this detached guy could ultimately be redeeming with those around him having a pronounced effect. Harrelson (A Prairie Home Companion) clicks as a very edgy stoner, Ryder's Donna is luminous as a user, and Cochrane makes for a humorously crazy hermit. A buzz-cut, bespectacled Downey energizes nearly every scene he inhabits as a busybody.
While A Scanner Darkly starts out as a dark comedy about dope fiends, it's able to progress into more sinister, subtle territory that sometimes can jolt one in light moments, even cerebral ones. The idea of intrusion, from a political standpoint, is far from fully explored, yet Stanley Kubrick might have marveled at some of the eerieness packaged as a treatise with some surprising visuals, even for those not on D.