These days drawing attention to a director credit is often not done because the director has a personal style - most don't - but as a marketing ploy. So, Cypher is the new film directed by Vincento Natali, the director of the brilliant Cube. He hasn't written it, and there's not really any link with the previous film. It's not a personal statement, and though it's pretty good, it's not great, much less brilliant.
Natali uses a stylised look, where rooms are almost theatrically suggested rather than seen, with film noir lighting, and heavy use of darkness. As the hero progresses, more colour comes in, but the look of the film is not style: it's pretty obviously a necessity of the ultra low budget. In an ideal world, the director of Cube would be feted, but obviously that's not the case. There are some special effects at the end, although being cheap CGI they're the weakest part of the film, and really underline that there's not enough to money here to make the story properly.
The story is hard to summarise without giving plot twists away. Put it this way: Total Recall with much better acting, but much less money. In an unspecified near future, unhappily married suburban office worker Morgan Sullivan (Jeremy Northam) is recruited to work as an industrial spy. He's sent to dull conferences, where he records everything that's said. He uses his false identity as an opportunity to create a less boring persona: he starts drinking whiskey, and takes up smoking. At one conference, he sees the exotic Rita (Lucy Liu) and even risks chatting her up. He fails, but she offers him some pills. He's been brainwashed, and if he takes them he'll wake up. He takes them, and finds out that weird things are going on in the conference. This leads to further revelations, until he's no longer sure of just whom he is. Is he being given a new identity, or uncovering an old one?
The story is fascinating, and takes many weird and wild turns, but the ending wraps things up in a way we've seen often recently. Basically, Cypher shares much in common with Fight Club, The Matrix, The Game, Memento and the novels of both Philip K Dick and William Gibson. If you like any of those, you'll like this too, but it doesn't add anything new, and while it's good, it's not as good as those. It's just a pretty good sci-fi mind twister paranoid movie. Are you up for seeing yet another one of those? 7/10
Adrian Horrocks (January 2005)
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