Director: Richard Linklater.
Screenplay: Richard Linklater.
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr, Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder, Rory Cochrane, Melody Chase, Alex Jones.
In 2002, director Richard Linklater delivered a, little-seen, gem of a film called “Waking Life“. In this, he used an animation technique called ‘rotoscoping’. Basically it was animation added over live actors. The results were highly effective and he decided to use the technique here, on this adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s paranoid science fiction novel. Once again, the results are superb.
In the near future, Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) an undercover cop, is given the assignment to bring down a vast network of drug distribution, dealing in “Substance D” – which is highly addictive and mind altering. He fully immerses himself in the lifestyle, to the point were he has become an addict himself and even his superiors don’t know his cover story. As a result, they order him to spy on himself. Being under the influence regularly, it causes him to lose his grip on reality where nothing is clear anymore.
This was a film that had gained interest from a couple of notable players in the film business. Director Terry Gilliam (“The Fisher King“, “12 Monkeys“) was interested at one point and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (“Being John Malkovich“, “Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind“) had actually drafted a screenplay that was eventually unused. One can only wonder at what might have become of this adaptation had they been involved but that doesn’t lessen the fact that Linklater has done a sterling job here. For a start, his decision to implement the “interpolated rotoscoping” animation again was a stroke of genius. On “Waking Life” it complimented the existential dream-like story and it is used similarly on this film. It’s a technique that could be in danger of overuse but when the story and characters themselves are operating from an occasional surreal point of view, rotoscoping is perfectly fitting. It serves as a metaphor for the characters’ drug induced alternate realities and allows us to identify with their paranoia and personal identity. You’d be forgiven for thinking that it might take away from the actors’ performances but it doesn’t. In some ways it enhances them. Reeves is an actor that has came in for some criticism throughout his career but he’s really rather good here and the support, from Harrelson and especially Downey Jr, is excellent. Who better to be included in a film of substance abuse than a couple of actors who have dabbled in their time? The script is also very faithful to Philip K. Dick’s writing. You can tell Linklater has invested a lot of his time in adapting, what is essentially, some of Dick’s own paranoid thoughts – he was heavily involved in the abuse of amphetamines and psychedelics – and explores the usual themes involved in his novels; the sociological and political aspects of human society under the control of an authoritarian government. If your a fan of Dick’s musings then you’ll find them all here. The only fault with the film could be found in it’s slightly lethargic pace but the visuals and thought provoking content are so astounding that the pace is forgiven. Sometimes Philip K. Dick’s stories are not given the proper treatment in movies. There are stinkers like “Next” and “Paycheck” but this ranks very highly alongside the successful ones like “Total Recall” and especially “Blade Runner“.
A thought-provoking head-trip of a film that delivers both intellectually and visually.