Cypher (2002)
Main cast: Jeremy Northam (Morgan Sullivan), Lucy Liu (Rita Foster), Nigel Bennett (Finster), Timothy Webber (Calloway), and David Hewlett (Vergil Dunn)
Director: Vincenzo Natali


Cypher is a brilliantly crafted futuristic thriller that pays homage to Alfred Hitchcock's North By Northwest. The actual storyline is a simple noirish tale of espionage, deception, and yes, brainwashing, but the script chooses to tell the story in a complex and engaging manner.

Set at some time in the future when information technology is all the rage and Microsoft-like companies pretty much rule, the story tells of our mild-mannered hero Morgan Sullivan. He has a wife that henpecks him and unemployed, he walks into the office of Digicorp one time and offers his services as a spy. Digicorp employs spies to steal secrets from its rival Sunways. It seems easy enough: all he has to do is to fly to whichever conference Digicorp sends him to, switch on his pen that also doubles as a transmission device, and then passes time in the seminar until it's time to switch off the pen and go home. But all is not what it seems when he starts getting horrible pains at the back of his neck as well as nightmares that don't make sense. Then there's the mysterious Rita Foster, who claims to be a restaurant inspector, that happens to be every where he goes and later, proves that she knows what sinister things are happening to Morgan.

Jeremy Northam is as always splendid, but this movie is a delight because he starts off playing this very timid man (he's channeling Mr Bean with a bad accent here). Once in his secret spy persona, he starts to reinvent himself as a dapper and debonair man, but little does he know that the spy gig he is getting into is more sinister than he expected. Fans of Mr Northam who don't believe that he can't be sexy unless he's playing a period gentleman should watch Cypher where he plays an unlikely antihero. Lucy Liu plays the mysterious moll pretty well, although her chemistry with Mr Northam is noticeably lacking.

There are many twists and plot surprises galore in this movie, and most of them actually make brilliant sense. Often filmed in a monochromatic, broody style, Cypher captures the futuristic steel and postindustrial apocalyptic scenario very well, albeit in an admittedly stereotypical way. The script handles Morgan's confusion at learning that he's more than a henpecked man with no friends very well and Mr Northam manages to pull off very well his character's despair at learning that he may never leave the bleakness of his old life. Even if he and Lucy Liu have no chemistry, it is very easy to sigh when he asks Rita whether he can see her again when the whole mess is over.

And in a way, Cypher is the sweetest love story of them all, when at the end, it is revealed that the whole chain of events in this movie is triggered by one man's love for his woman that sees his risking everything for her.

Cypher is one movie that has to be watched to be savored. This is the movie that the messy Matrix Reloaded or the ineptly executed Minority Report aspires to be. I don't know when this show will be released in America, but for the rest of us that manage to catch this movie, aren't we the lucky ones?

Rating: 93


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