The combination of director Richard Linklater (Slacker, Dazed And Confused) and writer Philip K. Dick (Blade Runner, Minority Report) would seem an odd one. And yet this unique and quirky film somehow works. The story (ostensibly about an undercover cop's crisis of identity and consciousness) is a difficult one to describe. In a word, it's about “drugs”. But calling this a “drug film” would be doing this layered and complex work a great disservice. This is about so much more. It's a bizarre mystery, a thriller, a romance and a paranoid rumination on the effect of power and control on a dazed populace.
Questions of identity and complicity are raised, and stand out performances by Keanu Reeves (seriously!), Robert Downey Jr. (who might know a thing or two about the subject matter) and Winona Ryder make this odd journey one well worth taking. A Scanner Darkly manages to remain compelling from go to whoa. This is partly due to the way it's shot. Real life footage is, seemingly, “painted” so it looks animated, in much the same way that Linklater's Waking Life was. This is no mere gimmick. It really makes the characters seem like they're trying to find sense in their imprisoning chemical haze.
All up, the film is a bit of a naval gazer, but if you're up for something with a little more meat on its bones than Trainspotting (which was a fine film, but intellectually a little light by comparison), A Scanner Darkly represents a fascinating look into a world most of us would probably do best to avoid.
Utterly original and possibly the most faithful adaptation of Dick's work to date.