Yesterday to a preview of A Scanner Darkly
in a plush screening theatre in Warner Brother’s London headquarters. Director and screenwriter Richard Linklater is clearly a fan of Philip K. Dick’s work; his adaptation of Dick’s semi-autobiographical novel about an undercover cop falling apart under the insiduous influence of the brain-killing drug Substance D, is, some necessary compression apart, faithful to both the text and the melancholy spirit of the novel. It was shot as a live action film and rotoscoped by computer animation to provide a graphic novel look that works pretty well; it’s hard, really, to see how the scramble suit effects could have been done so effectively otherwise. Hallucinatory weirdness is kept to the minimum, although there’s some very subtle distortion here and there, especially towards the end. Given that the story is largely plot-free and packs a lot of dialog, it does sag a little in places, but does its best by Dick's intricate drug-fueled paranoid riffs, is seasoned with some lovely touches of black humour, and the diminuendo ending, containing just a flicker of hope, is faithful to that of novel. Fans of Dick’s work will almost certainly love it, but I fear that its bleak, amorphous plot will have limited appeal to the general public. Keanu Reeves as undercover narc Bob Arctor is basically Keanu Reeves; Robert Downey Jr is a tour de force as the manically unpleasant James Barris; Woody Harrelson and Winona Ryder turn in solid performances, and Rory Cochrane is going to hate being called the new Jack Black.