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Miramax Pictures presents
Cypher (2002)

"Haven't we seen each other before?"
- Morgan Sullivan (Jeremy Northam)

Review By: Chuck Aliaga  
Published: August 02, 2005

Stars: Jeremy Northam, Lucy Liu
Director: Vincenzo Natali

MPAA Rating: R for (some language)
Run Time: 01h:35m:32s
Release Date: August 02, 2005
UPC: 786936292909
Genre: sci-fi

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-A-A D-

DVD Review

Cypher is the latest in a long line of genre films, such as The Hole and Darkness, to sit at the back of a studio's shelf for years after the completion of its shooting. The film has a great pedigree, including actors Jeremy Northam (Gosford Park) and Lucy Liu (Kill Bill: Volume 1), and director Vincenzo Natali (Cube). With such a nice assembly of talent, this 2002 project was headed for a theatrical run, but I guess the confusing nature of the twisty plot kept it from the big screen. It's no more confusing than the Mementos of the world, but apparently the studio heads didn't think that North American audiences would spend the time to try and figure it out. Cypher made its US debut on the Showtime channel a few months ago, and it has finally been dusted off for a domestic DVD release from Miramax Home Video.

Cypher centers on Morgan Sullivan (Northam), a Clark Kent-ish guy who is the epitome of a corporate stooge. Morgan is applying for a job at Digicorp as a spy for the company, and his prospective employers instantly deem him perfect for the position. They still put him through their tough testing procedures, as Digicorp is concerned that he may be a double agent attempting to gain an inside track for another organization.

Once Digicorp hires Morgan, they send him to a convention where he is supposed to use one of their gadgets to broadcast an entire presentation back to the company. He winds up falling asleep during the presentation, but can't shake a series of disturbing images that race through his head. On the first night of the convention, Morgan meets a gorgeous woman named Rita Foster (Lucy Liu) at a bar, carrying on a strange, flirtatious conversation with her. Morgan is a married man, whose wife is very upset that he has taken the job at Digicorp. When his wife leaves him while he's on another assignment, he begins to question his identity.

The rest of the plot should not be divulged as there are numerous twists and turns (including a reappearance by Rita), and a great ending that might not make a ton of sense at first. Cypher is a film that deserves numerous repeat viewings, though, as the ending stays with you for quite a while after an initial look, and piecing the whole thing together a few times is very rewarding.

The wonderful performances by Northam and the amazing Liu really strengthen this story, which can be very confusing, especially during the middle portion. This confusion can make the film seem like too much of a chore at times, but sticking it out proved very rewarding. Northam's portrayal of Morgan is a showcase for his wide acting range, as this character's personality changes a great deal from the opening titles to the end credits. While Northam is always convincing, Liu never wavers either. It's tough to discuss her character without revealing too much of the plot, but she shows off a similarly wide range, as her character is a huge key to the believability of the big reveal at the end.

This is just another example of the crime that occurs when an above average thriller is forgotten about, while junk like Stealth and Boogeyman receive huge theatrical releases. Director Natali doesn't quite show off the skills and potential that he pulled off with Cube, but if more people see Cypher, his career could really take off in the US and abroad. Cypher has spent far too much time collecting dust decomposing at the back of the studio's warehouse, and its producers have underestimated the demand for the film. Sure, it can be difficult to follow, but there are enough intelligent moviegoers out there who are willing to take the time (and the repeat viewings) to give this picture a look.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Cypher is a great-looking film, and this 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer does an excellent job in bringing out its best qualities. Each and every bit of image detail is present, while sharpness, contrast, and shadow levels are perfectly handled. The brighter colors work brilliantly with the deep, dark blacks, providing a realistic spectrum that blends in with the unique, futuristic imagery. There is the slightest bit of softness and a few specks of dirt, but there really aren't any overly distracting print flaws.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The audio is a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that features a surprisingly lively surround presence. Deep bass keeps the subwoofer rumbling, especially during the film's climax and any of the scenes with the disturbing images that Morgan sees. There aren't any problems with the dialogue, as it is crisp and distinct throughout.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Sin City, Hellraiser: Hellworld, The Prophecy, Dracula III: Legacy
Packaging: Keep Case
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Aside from some Sneak Peeks, there aren't any other extras on this disc.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Cypher finally gets the chance at a wide audience that it deserves, it's just too bad it had to be on DVD and not in theaters. It's also a shame that Miramax Home Video's disc has no extras at all, but at least the audio and video presentations are very impressive.


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