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Cypher

Director: Vincenzo Natali

U.S.A.| 2002. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 95 mins.


The work of Philip K. Dick casts a long shadow over Cube director Vincenzo Natali’s second futuristic feature; but thanks to a smart screenplay by Brian King, Cypher shines a more piercing light into the dark, paranoid corners of the human psyche. Yet, as befits a film about ‘a person without substance’, Cypher has a light touch which also recalls Hitchcock’s North By Northwest, with the modernist cityscapes of Godard’s Alphaville and the mind-bending weirdness of John Frankenheimer’s Seconds thrown in for good measure.
Cleverly cast against type, suave English actor Jeremy Northam (Emma, Enigma) plays Morgan Sullivan, a nerdy American accountant hired as an industrial spy by Digicorp. Leaving behind his dull, suburban life, Sullivan adopts the alias Jack Thursby, a whisky-drinking womaniser who smokes almost as much as he talks. ‘This is what I do,’ he tells his new boss. ‘This is who I am.’ But his confident new identity disintegrates when he falls for sexy, enigmatic rival Rita (Lucy Liu) and finds that he is merely an expendable cog inside a ruthless corporate machine. Cast adrift in a shiny, shifting world of faceless corporations, cryptic conspiracies and dangerous femmes fatale, Sullivan/Thursby loses his tenuous grip on reality and spirals downwards into paranoia. Cube imprisoned six characters inside a maze of glass-sided cubes. Cypher opens up wider horizons, but the theme of entrapment surfaces once again. Morgan Sullivan is a Kafkaesque figure who enters a closed corporate system and cannot comprehend the inscrutable forces controlling and manipulating him. Intelligent, hardcore, conceptual science fiction, this Philip K Dick-inspired movie is everything that true Dick adaptations such as Total Recall, Impostor and Minority Report might have been.

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