Richard Linklater's decision to film his adaptation of Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly in an animated style similar to his earlier film Waking Life exemplifies everything good about him as a filmmaker. By forcing viewers to constantly assess what and who they are looking at, Linklater is able to underscore the paranoid and Big Brother surveillance aspects of the story -- elements further enhanced when one recalls this film hit theaters around the time that surveillance tactics were a hotly contested political issue. Linklater does a fine job of opening up these topics for examination, and he even allows his audience to laugh at the same time. The drugged-out ramblings and misadventures of characters played by Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, and Rory Cochrane offer comic relief so humorous that it occasionally overwhelms the more serious aspects of the film. One gets the feeling that if Linklater ever wanted to have a giant box-office success he could make a great stoner comedy with the three of them. As funny and interesting as the entire film is, it falls short of entering the pantheon of great Linklater films mostly because the style of the film makes it hard to think of the characters in the film as real people. The audience will find it interesting when Keanu Reeves' undercover drug officer Bob Arctor slowly begins to lose himself in a haze of addiction, paranoia, and psychosis, but there is no sense of real human tragedy or loss. This lack of catharsis is underscored when, for the movie's end, Linklater appropriates Dick's personal note from the book where Dick dedicates it to a list of friends and acquaintances who have suffered from drug abuse. That simple list of names and afflictions carries more emotional weight than the film. Even if it is too cerebral by a hair, Linklater's film asks intelligent questions about the many ways drugs and drug policy affect society and individuals. By capturing the paranoia of that world, and presenting it in a style that creates a unique viewing experience, A Scanner Darkly stands as one of the very best Philip K. Dick adaptations.
by Perry Seibert review