American-born 34-year-old Vincenzo Natali started his career as a storyboard artist on Beetlejuice before going to film school in Canada. He made his feature debut in 1997 with Cube.

Although Natali doesn’t publicly admit it, he is obviously a fan of Philip K. Dick and perhaps even the late, great American 1940s director, Preston Sturges. Cypher was written by Brian King, a New Line Cinema script reader and self-confessed fan of North By Northwest.

Cypher is a very modern, stylish thriller and slickly deals with themes as diverse as identity, reality, espionage and paranoia. Derek Rogers, who has won awards for his cinematography on both Cube and Cypher, creates a bleached, drained look to sum up a bland, corporatised America. The film has already won several awards at fantasy festivals around the world.

Jeremy Northam is well cast against his usual period type as the accountant who wants to be a spy and has deservedly won best actor awards for his performance. Lucy Liu makes good use of her training in Charlie’s Angels to be the femme fatale. The only drawback is Natali’s inability to come up with an ending equal to the strength and style of the rest of the film. Still, for a film shot in 30 days on a tiny budget, Cypher is a hundred times more entertaining and stylish than The Matrix.

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