CYPHER (2002)
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

[In honor of CYPHER's 20th anniversary on October 1, here is a revision of Mark's 2002 review of that film.]

Vincenzo Natali's follow-up to the 1996 CUBE is in nearly all ways a science fiction outing superior to his previous film. Brian King's screenplay make this a fast paced science fiction adventure very much of the style of Philip K. Dick. Jeremy Northam is a total nebbish who gets to lead a double (and then triple) life in the shady world of industrial espionage. He is hired to go to business presentations that are so dull they put the participants to sleep. Then he finds out what is *really* going on. Also starring is Lucy Liu in a role that might have been better without a martial artist. This is a surprisingly deft film with a pace that just keeps building as the film progresses.

Many science fiction films of the last few years are based on the writings of Philip K. Dick. Somehow his paranoid view of the nature of reality, and how it can be completely different than it is perceived is an idea that appeals to filmgoers. CYPHER is not a film that is based on any Dick story, but Brian King's script captures Dick paranoid atmosphere perhaps better than any other film ever has. Morgan Sullivan (played by Jeremy Northam) is a nerdish sort dominated by his overbearing wife. But the job he is taking is anything but nerdish. DigiCorp and Sunways are among the two most powerful corporations in the world. They are vicious rivals. DigiCorp has hired him to spy on Sunways. His job is to not be very noticeable. He is to attend conferences under the false name Jack Thursby and during the conference to turn on a recorder disguised as a pen. Sullivan is fascinated by his new world of codes and skullduggery and allows himself to be pulled into the strange labyrinth of industrial espionage and the cold war of the two giant corporations. Almost immediately the boring conferences get more interesting when he starts seeing an Asian woman (Lucy Liu) who may also be playing the same game.

Though films with a similar plot have been made, I found this one genuinely exciting, and to me it has the feel of a science fiction novel. While some of the ideas now familiar, standard paranoiac fantasies, I think the execution is great, creating genuine excitement. This is a lot for a seven-million-dollar production to do. The film has little homages to films like NORTH BY NORTHWEST, SECONDS, and THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE.

There are some interesting visual tricks. The film begins almost black and white as Sullivan is unsure of himself in the shadowy world of industrial espionage. As his character develops and becomes more sure of himself the colors fill in more and more vivid. Sullivan's very world has changed. Jeremy Northam traverses the path from nerdish to superman with impressive grace. Only Lucy Liu seems a little out of place in a role that really did not need her martial arts skills, but could have used an actress that fitted in better with the story. Director Vincenzo Natali (CUBE, NOTHING, and SPLICE) has a sure hand and could be a major talent.

This film is actually much better than Natali's higher profile films CUBE and SPLICE. I rate it a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10.

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CYPHER plays occasionally on cable and it available from NetFlix.

					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2022 Mark R. Leeper