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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Action > Thriller > Cypher



Picture: C+     Sound: B     Extras: D     Extras: B-



A new cycle is building in Science Fiction.  Already, we have had Equilibrium, The Purifiers (reviewed elsewhere on this site) and Michael Bay’s The Island, and now Vincenzo Natali’s Cypher (2002).  Again, all are of the same genre.  They are about overtechnologized police state (or state-like) cities where something dark is taking place.  Unlike their predecessors of the past, they do not acknowledge this future as necessarily a bad thing and further avoid this angle by being so much an action film that they are saying that you can just hand-to-hand combat your way through being affected by this as if crossing the know-nothingness of Forrest Gump with karate.


In this case, particularly in visual reference, this feature at least grasps to some extent the confines of this more than the likes of John Woo’s Paycheck.  That film does not quite have its world arranged as so restrictive or intimidating.  Jeremy Northam is Morgan Sullivan, an expert in computers and their technology, who is solicited and brainwashed by a corporation to spy for them.  They even change his name and try to convince him he is another man so he can spy for them.  In all the crossfire, his trance is broken by a small break in events and a mysterious woman (Lucy Liu, much better off here than she was in Charlie’s Angels – Full Throttle) who may or may not ultimately be on his side.


Natali is borrowing liberally from John Frankenheimer’s Seconds and Alan J. Pakula’s The Parallax View, plus some of the visual absurdity of Terry Gilliam’s work in such worlds (Brazil, 12 Monkeys).  The whole show is even shot digital High Definition video, which is why it (like The Purifiers) did not get widely distributed, as the limits of the HD would have been obvious on 35mm film.  Unlike most straight-to-video garbage, this is actually worth your time, up until the idiotic conclusion that betrays the intelligence and fine pacing we get for most of the 96 minutes it is on screen.  Too bad the last few minutes are a disaster, because Northam is really good and Liu is just plain underrated.


The anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image was shot by videographer and cinematographer Derek Rogers, C.S.C., who has some talent and brings the current school of uniquely dark Canadian camerawork that audiences outside of that country know from The X-Files and David Cronenberg’s home shot films.  In this case, Rogers shot the whole feature in digital High Definition video at 1,080i resolution and for such a genre work, did just fine.  This looks good, despite detail limits and has cool consistency in its color.  The Dolby Digital 5.1 has more detail than usual and sounds really good for a change, though it should have been in DTS, which would have made this all the better.  Some sources list the feature as DTS, though DTS is not listed in the end credits.  Michael Andrews, who did the music for the original cut of the great Donnie Darko and remains in almost all of the directors cut (both reviewed elsewhere on this site; both films were produced by Pandora) shows that his previous score was no fluke.  His work here is really good.   Since this disc has not extras except a few trailers, that would have been nice.  Either way, if you like smart Science Fiction, you will enjoy Cypher until it conclusion.  If you don’t have high hopes, you will have fun.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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