Cyberpunk Review » Cypher

March 12, 2006


Year: 2002

Directed by: Vincenzo Natali

Written by: Brian King

IMDB Reference

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Medium

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Medium

Key Cast Members:

  • Morgan Sullivan: Jeremy Northam
  • Rita Foster: Lucy Liu
  • Finster: Nigel Bennett
  • Rating: 8 out of 10



    Overview: Canadian film maker Vincenzo Natali, master of doing more with less, delivers us an excellent cyberpunk flick for a virtual pittance budget. At 7.5 million, Cypher is FAR more polished than it has any right to be. This paranoid conspiracy, near-future espionage thriller provides a continual stream of mindfuck moments. Expect your head to get jerked around so much that you’ll need to check yourself for whiplash after watching it.




    The Story: Jeremy Northam stars as Morgan Sullivan, a nerdy and slightly incompetent salesman who leads a bland life. His job is boring, his nagging wife is overbearing, and he spends most of his time yearning for some excitement to infiltrate his mundane life. In pursuit of this, Morgan applies for a job at Digicorp, a high-tech company, to become a corporate spy. But so far, the job is not the excitement he was looking for. The job involves assuming an fake identity, and then traveling to various non-envious US destinations and secretly recording boring conference speeches.




    Morgan, now calling himself “Jack Thursby,” develops a persona associated with the name he’s given by Digicorp. He starts to imagine himself to be a suave and sophisticated player, who likes to smoke, drink scotch and pick up sexy women at hotel bars. During one trip he meets Rita Foster (Lucy Liu), who claims to work for a freelance expert named Sabastian Rook. She warns him that he is being brainwashed by Digicorp in order to infiltrate their rival company, Sunways Corporation.




    From there, the story becomes too complex to try explaining. The plot reveals layer upon layer of unraveling truth and reality. Morgan realizes he has become enmeshed in an ongoing high stakes corporate battle, and worse, events have so overtaken him that he has nowhere to turn and can trust nobody. Everyone wants to use him for their own purposes, as Morgan, while still a pawn in the larger scheme of things, has come into play.




    The Acting: Jeremy Northam, a British character actor, is simply brilliant at acting completely different personas over the course of the movie. He really nails a role requiring complex and diverse acting. Lucy Lui plays a terrific femme fatale who leads Morgan further down into the abyss. The rest of the cast also holds up well, including Nigel Bennett as Digicorp’s mysterious representative, and David Hewlett, who plays a completely bizarre character who lives in a data vault.




    The FX: Truly, I’m blown away that Natali is able to pull over as many special effects as he has with a 7.5 million dollar production budget. The brainwashing headsets are clearly the highpoint of the movie, but many of the effects throughout are muted, but important. In looking at Cypher, most would conclude that this should have taken at least 25 million or so, and even then, they would have needed to watch costs. The range of sets, and completely different looks staggers the mind when the overall cost is presented. Make no mistake – I’m not comparing Cypher to big budget fares like the Matrix, but for the money, Cypher’s FX really look terrific. More importantly, they add important touches in bringing a near-future feel to an otherwise modern day setting.




    The Bottom Line: In many ways, Cypher comes across as a cyberpunk version of Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. The pacing and feel of Cypher is very similar, and in both movies, you really never know what’s coming around the next corner, but most assuredly it will involve more layers of out-of-control untruths. With all the goodness that Cypher gives us, you’d almost expect the final score to be a 9 or 10. But unfortunately, Cypher’s story falls apart at the end. The technical believability, which is decently high throughout the film, flat-out does a belly flop at the end, and expects us to buy something that anyone who knows a whit about data security, just can’t stomach (I can add a spoiler page on this if anyone is interested). However, this sore point is not enough to sap enjoyment out of an otherwise wonderfully made film. You may not have heard of Cypher, but this is not an indication of its quality. Give it a go – chances are you’ll love it!


    ~See movies similar to this one~

    This post has been filed under Memory Modification, 8 Star Movies, Good low-budget movies, Cyberpunk movies from 2000 - 2009 by SFAM.


    March 13, 2006

    Neuromancer said:

    This looks like it could be one of those lost gems!
    I’m gonna have to see this.
    Thanks for the review and the tip.

    March 22, 2006

    Hugo said:

    Picked this up at the local video shop expecting it to be another B-grade sci-fi film (and how many of them are there?!).

    I reckon ‘Cypher’ is set to be a cult film - one of the films that goes by practically unnoticed and cost a pittence to make, but then is remembered forty years later by people like us (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!!! :D).

    SFAM said:

    Hi Hugo, welcome to Cyberpunkreview. :)

    Yeah, Cypher does appear to be forgotten already, and probably will rise up over time as a cult film. It clearly is different in quality from your normal low-budget fare.

    April 3, 2006

    DoomAng3l said:

    Hey SFAM,
    Long time … I have been ploughing through your updates and came across this… firstly thanks for doing the review, and second…

    This is a brilliant CP movie!!! You are swamped in character flex… I could go on for hours … but won’t … read the review , watch the movie and make up your own mind ;)

    April 4, 2006

    SFAM said:

    Hi DoomAng3l, I agree, it’s a terrific movie. I’m really thrilled I’ve been able to help folks discover these lost gems - this is one of my main desires with this site.

    April 9, 2006

    Neuromaster said:

    Set in a time in the distant future, Memoirs Found in a Bathtub is the horrifying first-hand account of a bureaucratic agent trapped deep within the subterranean bowels of a vast underground military complex. In a kafka-esque maelstrom of terrifying confusion and utter insanity, this man must attempt to follow his mission directives of conducting an “on-the-spot investigation. Verify. Search. Destroy. Incite. Inform. Over and out. On the nth day nth hour sector n subsector n rendezvous with N.”

    The narrator inhabits a paranoid dystopia where nothing is as it seems, chaos seems to rule all events, and everyone is deeply suspicious of every one else. In danger of losing his mind, our protagonist starts keeping a diary, and it is this diary which details only a few days in his life that is ultimately found by a future society and given the title Notes from the Neogene. Memoirs Found in a Bathtub is this distant voice from the past, this Notes from the Neogene.

    Neuromaster said:

    The first post is an wiki-article about a book I”v read!! It’s named “Memoirs Found in a Bathtub” writen by Stanislaw Lem. A great Sci-Fi book, that has a story which is similar to the one in Cypher!

    April 10, 2006

    SFAM said:

    Hi Neuromaster - I’m guessing you’re different from the regular poster here, Neuromancer? If so, welcome to cyberpunkreview :)

    And thanks for the reference. We’v ebeen discussing Stanislaw Lem in the Meatspace (forum) - I really have to read some of his stuff.

    January 7, 2008

    Linken said:

    called Brainstorm in sweden.. took me a while to find it under its original name..

    January 18, 2009

    Ethereal Haunting said:

    I found this in the discount DVD box at.. somewhere and instantly bought it as soon as I noticed it was a Vincenzo Natali movie (I absolutely love the original Cube, and his other strangeness that is Nothing).

    It is not what I expected, but it is definitely brain melting material ;) And very awesome. I think I’ll have to go watching again tomorrow :)

    October 7, 2009

    chlordane said:

    I just finished this one, it was excellent, I think the main thing that pulled it off was the acting made it believable.

    December 24, 2009

    MMA said:

    Thanks to your site I found this movie and really enjoyed it. Thanks for the review!

    May 19, 2010

    Famke said:

    Thank you.. it’s the reason I came to the site,lucy

    July 21, 2010

    Daved said:

    Thank you for introducing me to this great CP film. Just watched it the other night and it was the best movie I’ve seen in a long time. I don’t really know much about data security, but I think I see what you mean about the lack of believability towards the end… Still, it’s an awesome movie full of twists that never seem too forced / contrived.

    October 2, 2011

    MDBowron said:

    Sorry to be a pain in the butt, but its Sunways Systems, not Sunways Corporation.

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