Ever since Danny Boyle's TRAINSPOTTING, most films about drug addiction aim to make the viewer feel like he or she is high. They adopt a flashy, over-the-top style, desperate to prove their hipness. Despite the psychedelic overtones of the shimmering animation in Richard Linklater's A SCANNER DARKLY, it's aiming for something much different. In films as different as DAZED AND CONFUSED, WAKING LIFE and BEFORE SUNSET, he's shown an affinity for the rhythms of people hanging out, apparently doing nothing. His screenwriting has generally outclassed his direction, although the long Steadicam takes of BEFORE SUNSET were impressive. For all the dazzle of Keanu Reeves' animated shape-shifting, the dialogue and performances are the real stars of A SCANNER DARKLY. Robert Downey Jr., playing a verbose addict, has never been more impressive - it may be cruel to say so, but this is the role he was born to play.

Both anti-drug and anti-War On Drugs, A SCANNER DARKLY shows how Philip K. Dick's ideas, which may have been  fanciful when he wrote the source novel in the '70s, mesh with the reality of the Bush administration's surveillance, although its final paranoid leaps are still speculative. Its addicts aren't part of a true counterculture. Instead, they live in a world where everyone, whatever their place in society, shares the same paranoia and backstabbing tendencies. Some of the characters may act this way because they're on drugs, but they still have real enemies and they're really being watched. The Panopticon has taken over the world of A SCANNER DARKLY. Linklater's worldview is reminiscent of the Gang of Four's 1979 album ENTERTAINMENT, a catalogue of the ways we internalize social constrictions and express them in romance and friendship. All the stoned bullshitting in A SCANNER DARKLY isn't just there to kill time or establish character; it shows how jockeying for power is inescapable in every relationship, even over something as petty as whether a bike has eight or nine gears. Park Chan-wook's 2002 SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE is the only recent film to get as good a grasp on the way everyone - whatever their social position or stated political views - is affected by their culture's  moral values - or lack thereof.

The use of animation drawn over live action adds another dimension to Dick's metaphysical skepticism about the nature of reality, creating a distancing effect between us and the actors. There's an overwhelming sense of lost possibility in this film, especially a genuine yearning for  friendship gone to waste. Keanu Reeves' general spaciness is used extremely well. His Substance D-induced decline, which slowly makes him more and more passive and confused,  brings Neil Young's line "every junkie's like a setting sun" to mind. The plot of A SCANNER DARKLY describes one man turning into an object as everyone conspires around him while skirting pity. As Michael Sicinski suggests , it's a leftist elegy for addicts, one that takes on a tremendous sense of sadness in its final moments. This is the first Richard Linklater film  that might drive spectators to tears.