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Movie Review: Strange Days

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It has taken me 16 years to finally sit down and watch the 1995 cyberpunk film Strange Days and now I wish I hadn’t waited so long to do so. A trip into the cyber world that might have been and in many ways could still come to pass, seeing it eleven years after the story is set adds a different ambience to its science fiction themes.

It’s not that it detracts from the film at all, in fact Strange Days is a fantastic film that I really enjoyed. The themes are interesting, the performances are all quite strong and the pacing is good enough to keep you watching well past your bed time (like I did).

Ralph Fiennes in Strange DaysStrange Days was directed by Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow and written and produced by James Cameron. Like Bigelow’s earlier vampire film Near Dark, Strange Days did poorly at the box office but has apparently has gathered quite a cult following in subsequent years. I’m happy to hear this; Strange Days does deserve an audience and despite being set in a future whose date has come and gone. The film holds up surprisingly well.

The film is set in the last days of 1999 in a world that has tipped over to be all-out chaos, with the police state clashing with its citizens. We’re introduced to Lenny Nero who is played brilliantly by Ralph Fiennes who I must admit I don’t usually care for, though I find myself enjoying his performances more and more of late. Nero is a former cop who is now a dealer in black market SQUID (Superconducting Quantam Interface Device) recordings. These recordings are of experiences that people have whilst wearing the SQUID cap which records directly from the brain so that a viewer might have the same experience and sensations. They are essentially “real” virtual reality experiences.

The film unfolds as Nero comes across a “snuff” clip, something especially violent and intense, although this is a part of the SQUID trade with which he never deals. But having the clip in his possession embroils him events that could tear Los Angeles apart.

I think the most effective performances in Strange Days are provided by the characters who have to witness the blackjack recordings, certainly Fiennes‘ reactions show an impressive execution, reminiscent of Nicolas Cage’s in the film 8MM, in fact Strange Days could be read as a cyberpunk interpretation of the 8MM story.

I wonder how taken James Cameron was with the dystopian world that he envisioned as he would later revisit a similar place in the television series Dark Angel.

As with most science fiction there are the odd pieces of paraphernalia that date the film, old style televisions and mobile phones, meshed with futuristic technologies. But the movie never attempts the grand artistic vision of a film like Blade Runner. Of course it was only set four years into the future when it was first brought out so it’s probably appropriate that the SQUID tech is the only real futuristic aspect.

I wish I’d seen this film when it first came out because I know that I would have loved it and possibly even more so than I have seeing it now. Strange Days is a solid science fiction/cyberpunk/dystopian film with committed performances and talented direction. Not recommended for the more delicate of us as some of the sequences are quite disturbing and are as Nero might say it’s “a walk to the dark end of the street”.

Anyone else seen the underrated science fiction gem? What did you think?

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About Lee Sargent

  • Rebecca

    I love this film. I saw it only a few years after it’s release. Made me a Ralph Fiennes fan even more. Plus a sexy and strong showing from the talented Angela Bassett. I am not much if a Juliette Lewis fan, and this performance does her no favors, yet I like her songs; I like the soundtrack. I think this was well done and the layering of the plot is intense and intricate, yet is smooth enough to follow for all. Well done!

  • Lee Sargent

    @Rebecca – Ralph Fiennes was fantastic in the film as was Bassett. I forgot to mention the soundtrack which I know was quite popular at the time!

  • Rebecca

    @Lee if you want to take in another Fiennes flick that in my opinion was under-rated as well (he has a smallish role), then check out The Chumscrubber. A very different style of movie than Strange Days, but has the kind of plot layering you may like :)

  • Arjan

    The soundtrack is indeed quite awesome.
    I thought the handguns looked a bit futuristic too – discharging almost a bit like pulse weapons..but that could just be me. It’s quite funny that it was set only so few years into the future since normally these kind of movies would be set at least 20 years or so in the future.

    The storyline was wel…strange. It took me a while to get with the program. All in all a good sunday afternoon/evening movie although I wouldn’t rate it 5 stars :)

  • Lee Sargent

    @ Rebecca – I’ve never heard of that film so I’ll keep an eye out for it!!!