Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

This must be futureworld. They don't say so, but it has that techno feel about it, as if man's relationship with himself is less stable than machines relationships with each other.

Also, reality is a word meaning whatever you want it to mean.

Copy picture

Morgan Sullivan (Jeremy Northam) is told that he doesn't exist. His name is Jack Thursby now. His job is to go to business conventions throughout North America and act as a spy. He can't tell anyone, not even his wife. Except Jack doesn't have a wife. Morgan does. That's confusing. For him.

Wait a minute... Jack does have a wife. He discovers later. And she's not the same person as Morgan's wife. She has a name, but he can't remember it. Whatever is happening, he's not tuned into the same frequency. He has crippling mental attacks, like brainstorms, during which kaleidoscopic images flash through his head and he passes out with pain.

He joins a multinational corporation in order to spy for them and is persuaded to become a double agent for a rival corporation, even though he doesn't know what they do, or what they want. He is told things like "You won't last long out there" and "They will eliminate you." He starts smoking an exclusive brand of cigarette and drinking single malt whisky on the rocks. He tries to chat up a Chinese-American girl (Lucy Liu) at a bar, who is deeply involved in his case, if that is what it is, rather than a dodgy career move.

"Who sent you?"

"A friend."

"I don't have any friends."

It's that kind of movie. You have been here before. Or think you have. But you haven't. That's the illusion. Sophisticated brainwashing techniques are being used to erase the truth. The girl's name is Rita. You have a moment to ponder this information. It seems unconvincing. Does she/is she/will she...? He knows, or thinks he knows, that he is a pawn in someone else's power game.

Cypher has style. It comes under the category of psychological thriller, but is a puzzle, full of devious tricks. The script has pin-point accuracy and is tightly drawn around the neck of probability.

"Do you have an answer for everything?" Jack asks.

"Yes," Rita says.

Director Vincenzo Natali balances precariously between the absurd and the almost fearful. He is guided by a performance of multi-layered brilliance from Northam, who, for heaven's sake, should be a star. If he was, he might not be here, because this is bespoke cinema, not mainstream entertainment, and stars when they shine seldom take risks.

If you have ever questioned the meaning of life, be careful. This movie might tip you over the edge.

Reviewed on: 04 Sep 2003
Share this with others on...
Cypher packshot
Futuristic brainwashed power trip, in which Jeremy Northam keeps changing identity.
Amazon link

Director: Vincento Natali

Writer: Brian King

Starring: Jeremy Northam, Lucy Liu, Nigel Bennett, Timothy Webber, David Hewlett, Kari Matchett, Kristina Nicoll, Joseph Scoren, Stephen Brown, Arnold Pinnock, Jocelyn Snowdon

Year: 2002

Runtime: 95 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US / Canada


Search database:

If you like this, try: