More noise than signal

Cypher

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

It took five years for Natali to direct another film, that being 2002’s Cypher, set in that brief window where bleach bypassing was a thing. Jeremy Northam’s Morgan Sullivan lives a dreary life as an accountant, but rather than go off to work for his father in law’s firm, he instead takes a post as a corporate spy for the shadowy Digicorp. He’s tasked with attending and surreptitiously recording the most banal of industry seminars but we soon find out that things are not what they seem.

Meeting Lucy Liu’s Rita Foster at one event, she clues him into what’s actually going on, giving him drugs to counteract the brainwashing that Digicorp’s been performing on him to reinforce his assumed identity as a spy to, presumably, better enable future nefariousness. He soon becomes a double agent for rival corporation Sunway Systems, promising him a way out, but before long things aren’t quite what they seem there either, and who’s this Sebastian Rooks fellow everyone keeps mentioning anyway?

It’s not a film well suited to a blow by blow narrative, in particular because that narrative is about 98% of the film. Character, by virtue of the slender identities that Northam is inhabiting for the film, is not the strongest suite, and frankly it’s to his credit that his twitchy, somewhat eerie performance can drive the film along, with some surer support from Lucy Liu.

It’s a stylish yarn, and while I don’t think it holds up all that well to repeat viewing, I like this a lot on first viewing and liked this rewatch well enough, although curiously the effects work has aged much worse in Cypher than in Cube, perhaps because there’s so much more of it, and it’s all entirely superfluous.

I believe this was seen as a bit of a Marmite film in it’s day, neatly splitting audiences into hating it and loved it camps, and I don’t think it did particularly well and has largely faded into obscurity, at least for everyone that didn’t pick up the gloriously shiny DVD issue back in the day. It deserves better, I think, and also worth pulling out of the vault for a more considered bit of science fiction than is the norm these days.