a critiQal film review Strange Days (1995)

  • DVD

Plot: In the last days of 1999, Los Angeles has become a city of chaos. Amongst this backdrop, ex-cop Lenny Niro (Fiennes) makes his living selling illegal clips - memories jacked directly into the brain through a device which allows the wearer to experience the recording as if it were happening to them. But, when his friend (Bako) is raped and murdered, and Lenny is sent a recording of the whole thing, he soon finds himself mixed up in a plot that could bring the already crazy city to it's breaking point.

588 words (Est. Reading Time 2m 56s)

Remember when everybody thought the world was going to come crashing down when the year 2000 arrived? When the “Y2K” computer glitch, the prophecies of doom, etc. had everyone expecting New Year’s Eve 1999 to be the biggest – and last – party on the planet? Despite the rather uneventful outcome to all that (New Year’s Day 2000 dawned bright and cheery…and the world hadn’t changed), the public’s interest had been piqued, even as early as 1995.

So, like previous and future fears – the worry about an asteroid crashing into the planet (Armageddon (1998), Deep Impact), the world ending in the year 2012 (2012 (2009)) – Hollywood decided to make a movie about the event. That movie was Strange Days.

The cast is impressive. Ralph Fiennes, who was flying high off of his appearance in the long-winded, but critically acclaimed The English Patient headlines the show. He defies expectations as Lenny, a sleazy ex-cop turned hustler. Selling what he calls “real life, pure and uncut” and others describe as “selling porno to wireheads”, he skirts the edge of the seediest side of a town on the verge of a blow-up. Surprisingly, he seems to come off mostly unscathed – until a recording arrives depicting the sadistic rape and murder of a friend of his. Through it all, Fiennes – who is now known more for his role as Voldemort in films like Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) – displays a man circling the drain of life, thanks to his overwhelming obsession with the past, with impressive elan.

Angela Bassett – known at the time for her roles in “chick flicks” like Waiting to Exhale, lights up the screen as a corn-rowed butt-kicking bodyguard/driver. While occasionally forgetting she’s in a more action-oriented film and over-emoting, seeing her in this completely different role is a flash of fun amidst the chaos of the film.

Strange Days also reunites Juliette Lewis and Tom Sizemore from the memorable Natural Born Killers (1994). Lewis, once again singing on-screen, is a bit of a let-down after her turn as a psychotic lover. Both her and Sizemore do play out a sort of homage to their deranged characters from that crazy film. Vincent D’Onofrio (later to become the loony detective on “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” (TV), channels maniacal cop well, dragging along his partner, William Fictner, like a puppy dog on a leash as he lets his crazy side get the better of him.

The setting is a dystopian vision of a future LA on the brink of complete chaos. Sounds great already, right? But it’s the storyline that really pulls the viewer into Strange Days. Co-written by James Cameron, the story leads the viewer through a tangled web of lies, deceit, and murder. It pulls the viewers along on a journey that they will find themselves completely wrapped up in, almost in spite of themselves.

Director Kathryn Bigelow hadn’t yet quite found the pace that would lead future films, like The Hurt Locker, to garner her bigger fame. She smartly gives Strange Days a spasmodic feel. She lets the storyline feed off the chaos around it without letting that chaos completely overwhelm it.

Despite a dystopian future that has become the biggest joke of all time – thanks to the uneventful actual event – Strange Days, with it’s load of recognizable names, takes the viewer on a walk on the wild side. While not quite a fully realized vision, the film still manages to deliver a punch…something a lot of films these days try so hard to accomplish, but barely ever deliver.

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