In a totalitarian society in a near future, the undercover detective Bob Arctor is working with a small time group of drug users trying to reach the big distributors of a brain-damaging drug called Substance D. His assignment is promoted by the recovery center New Path Corporation, and when Bob begins to lose his own identity and have schizophrenic behavior, he is submitted to tests to check his mental conditions.Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
"Clerodendron Ugandens", the source of the organic component of Substance D is apparently based on a real species of flower - "Clerodendrum ugandense", the blue glorybower. However, it has been reclassified and is now known under the correct name "Rotheca myricoides". Like the movie asserts, the plant is highly poisonous to humans and livestock. See more »
While showing the monitoring equipment, Hank tells Fred that he could be anyone from Arctor's circle of friends, including Barris. This made sense in the book, however, by this time in the movie Hank has already seen Fred alongside Barris, so he could not possibly think they are the same person. See more »
[on the phone]
I looked them up. They're aphids. They're in my hair, on my skin, in my lungs. And the pain, Barris, it's unreasonable. They're all over the place. Oh, they've completely gotten Millie too.
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The "Phil" mentioned in the "in memoriam" list as having permanent pancreatic damage is Philip K. Dick himself. See more »
It works here and there but doesn't hang together that well and fails to bring out the ideas and themes within the material
In the near future a powerful new drug substance D is hooking users with every new hit. Losing the battle against the drug, the LAPD place an officer undercover as a substance D user. While the officer's identity is kept secret from his colleagues and superiors, he himself starts to lose touch with who he actually is meant to be. Becoming hooked on the drug himself and becoming friends with the people he is meant to be informing on, the officer starts to suffer a breakdown with memory and concentration loses combined with a loosening grip on reality.
I had reasonably high hopes for this film but also the fear I have when anyone takes on material that some have called "unfilmable". Written at a time when his marriage had broken down and he himself was struggling with his drug use and split identities, Dick's material does offer much of interest as long as it can be delivered in such a way to be engaging and interesting. "Making sense" was not one of the qualities I really needed, which was just as well since narratively there isn't a lot to follow along with. Parts of it are funny, parts of it are trippy and parts of it are dramatic. However none of them really come together to produce anything of that much value. It is a shame that the ideas over identity, drugs and the morals of the war on drugs are not better played out. As it is I didn't think there was enough of interest and, with the narrative being so basic, what remained was surprisingly dull.
The use of the rotoscoping was a smart move and also serves as an interesting hook for multiplex audience (and I include myself therein, so it is not a snobbish reference) that have perhaps not seen it before. Linklater produces some good effects this way and it is hard to think of another approach working as well within the context of the material as it does. Sadly this is not enough to carry the film along, although it will be enough to satisfy some sections of the audience. The cast do the best they can within this unsuccessful mix and most of them are individually good here and there. Reeves is a natural stoner but he doesn't convince with his breakdown and confusion that well; he isn't helped by the lack of focus in the script but he can't lift it regardless. Downey Jr is very funny and convincing and wards off the boredom when he is near. Harrelson tries to follow suit but with a dumber character he just falls flat. Cochrane is more enjoyable and the animation really aids his performance. Ryder is OK but she has too much of the narrative to carry and she cannot do it.
Overall this is an OK film at best. It is sporadically interesting, funny and engaging however it cannot find any consistency of tone, pace or engagement. The material is good enough to throw up interesting ideas and themes but Linklater sadly doesn't manage to do much with them across the film. The use of animation over the film cells is really well crafted and works well to support the material it is just a shame then that the awareness and control that Linklater in this area he seems to lack in others.
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