Movie Review: Strange Days

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On the eve of the new millenium, former cop-turned-dealer Lenny gets caught up in a mystery involving police cover-ups and a serial killer.

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Kathryn Bigelow, 1995

Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes), once a vice squad cop, has since become a dealer in people’s experiences via a device called a SQUID. People wearing a SQUID record a moment in their lives – committing a crime, threesomes, all kinds of thrills – for someone else to enjoy vicariously, downloaded straight into their brains. He consorts with an assortment of seedy types, including ex-girlfriend-turned-singer Faith (Juliette Lewis), injured war vet best friend Max (Tom Sizemore), prostitutes and producers, with his only friend, chauffeur Mace (Angela Bassett) by his side. One night he’s given a “snuff” film that is eventually proven to be linked to the murder of rapper Jeriko One. He gets drawn further and further into danger through his desire to save Faith, the powder keg of street gangs on the verge of war becoming more and more dangerous as the new year draws closer.
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This cyberpunk effort from the awesome Kathryn Bigelow (written by her ex-husband James Cameron) shows a dirty, gritty near future from its 1995 release. It is violent and dark, but it’s also clever, with a lot of great ideas. The SQUID is a pretty simple device, the only technological change from the time when the movie was made, but it opens up a lot of possibilities that are well explored in the movie. In the spirit of good scifi, the movie explores the implications of its setting, and addresses race relations and social inequality. In none of this is it boring; despite its 2-hour run time it hits the ground running, with Ralph Fiennes’ Lenny being knocked down and dragging himself up again repeatedly. There is some brutal sexual violence that might upset some people, and it isn’t handled perfectly, although it is perhaps better than most. Unfortunately there’s a kind of nihilism to the ultimate ending, which sidesteps a few of the issues it’s brought up in order to wrap the film up neatly, but hey, it’s a killer party scene. You know. Literally.

Angela Bassett is kicking ass and taking names in this film. Mace is a great character, maternal and tough, caring and angry, making Lenny more amiable through her affection for him alone. Ralph Fiennes is great as Lenny, a dreamer and addict who is stuck in his memories of Faith and unable to let go of her; rather than glorifying his obsession, his character growth comes from letting go and moving on. Juliette Lewis’s volatile Faith is good too, although the supporting characters are more thinly drawn, particularly Faith’s villainous producer Philo Gant (yeah, really). Character actors Vincent D’Onofrio and William Fichtner put in good support as the off-the-rails crooked cops, though they don’t get much screentime. Bigelow lends the film its own greasy sheen which compliments the morally grey, violent world its characters inhabit. The music is awesome in a 90s grunge/punk way, and there’s a beat that the movie plays to – frenetic but engrossing (check out the montage where Lenny drives along, changing the music as various violent tableaus occur on the street outside). It’s still a fun action scifi movie with a lot of brains and a few gut punches, and it’s a cult movie well worth rediscovering.

Strange Days on IMDb

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