Saturday, June 28, 2014

Another Radio Free Albemuth online review -- this one less argumentative, focusing on what I loved

This movie is more faithful to the letter and spirit of Philip K. Dick than his fans ever thought they had the right to expect in a movie. Imagine a film adaptation that makes no artistic compromises. Well, you don't have to imagine that anymore. Although it's not a word-for-word adaptation and takes creative liberties, Radio Free Albemuth "gets" Philip K. Dick's dystopian vision, and sensitively handles the mystical experiences that were the subject of the novel. The special effects are clever and interesting, better quality than "cheesy" but low budget and appropriate for the sort of sci-fi movie this is. The acting is surprisingly good given the short filming schedule and small budget I'm assuming they had, with some absolute casting coups, especially in Shea Whigham who plays a hilariously deadpan Philip Dick. Jonathan Scarfe is transcendental as Nicholas Brady, compellingly portraying the entranced and blissed out altered states of consciousness and moral convictions of the character. Katheryn Winnick is sexy and sweet as Rachel, capturing the paradoxical qualities of the PKD wife archetype. She is protective to the point of being neurotically controlling, getting defensive whenever he brings up the religious experiences that drive the plot. Alanis Morisette is a surprising choice for Silvia Sadassa, but pulls off the role and brings a certain musical presence. Scott Wilson is effectively creepy as the evil president Fremont; the FAP girl (whose story is a spin off of FBI agents asking the real Philip K. Dick to inform on his wife) is seductive and dangerous in the honeytrap scene. The music is fantastic and lovingly crafted, and the astute viewer will notice many little easter eggs that reveal little differences about the alternative universe. You don't have to be a Robyn Hitchcock fan to enjoy the soundtrack, although his songs dominate, and I find myself getting the song that drives the subversive activity plot stuck in my head. "Join the party!" It's worth mentioning that given the recent NSA revelations, the surveillance theme in this movie are more interesting than ever. What I think is interesting about it, and most critics seem to have missed, is the casual way in which the details about the dystopian society are revealed to us, basically as the characters discuss them over dinner or around the TV. Rather than shoving action or special effects in your face, or depicting horrifying ultra-violence, this movie creates an effective dystopia more subtly by showing how ordinary people who aren't yet taking scary societal changes seriously. It's like, all of a sudden there are security checkpoints and we have to take a test about what the president said, and look aren't these questions tricky? Philip K. Dick's under-appreciated masterpiece has become a film that rewards viewers in so many ways I couldn't hope to enumerate them in this small review. After three viewings I'm still catching more that keeps me interested!


  1. Thank you for your insight. RFA has been scrubbed clean of the usual tinsel that Hollywood tosses into theaters. It is more substantial than all that glitz and flash.

  2. RFA is the raw stuff. Thanks for the comment, Tessa!


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