Cypher Vincenzo Natali

To the untrained eye, Cypher is merely an elegant Matrix riff. It's the tale of a nerdy corporate spy (Jeremy Northam) entering the ranks of a mega-corporation only to find his identity at risk; fortunately, he has corporate espionage freelancer Lucy Liu to deprogram him from the total brainwashing in store. Of course, there's the issue of whether Northam really wants the life that's being taken from him, or whether he can trust anyone who's feeding him information, all decked out with some beautifully sterile interiors that compensate for the occasional cheesy CGI effect. But while on the surface it's mostly par for the William Gibson/Philip K. Dick course, the film takes on a different hue when you consider that Canadian Vincenzo Natali directed it, and that it deals with identity in very serious and paranoid ways. Seen in this light, it's a classic metaphor for American cultural assimilation, in which the colonial subject not only doesn't know who he is but who he ever was to begin with. And for once, a Canadian-helmed film not only finds its way out of the labyrinth but manages to lead itself to triumph; it wouldn't be cricket to reveal how, but suffice it to say that the person wrapped in the enigma is bigger than the nothing at the centre of Atom Egoyan. It's possible to become exasperated with the total austerity of the enterprise, but for once some of the hard surfaces are enjoyed rather than respected and feared. All said, a surprisingly good renter, and that's taken on its own terms, not just for when everything else good is out. (Miramax/Buena Vista)

(Century Media)