Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Strange Days (1995)

Strange Days
1995, 20th Century Fox


Producers:  James Cameron & Steven-Charles Jaffe
Director:  Kathryn Bigelow
Principal Cast:  Ralph Fiennes, Angela Bassett, Juliette Lewis, Tom Sizemore, Michael Wincott, Vincent D’Onofrio, William Fichtner
Screenwriter:  James Cameron & Jay Cocks
Cinematography:  Matthew F. Leonetti
Music:  Graeme Revell
Editing:  James Cameron

Studio:  Lightstorm Entertainment
Country: United States
Running time:  145 Minutes
Color:  Color
Aspect Ration: 2.35 : 1
Language: English


Taking place on New Year’s Eve in an alternate 1999, Lenny Nero is an ex-cop who deals with a new kind of techno-drug: data discs that contain recorded memories and emotions. When “wired” a user can experience point-of-view perspectives of their wildest fantasies. But when Lenny receives an anonymous data disc containing a violent murder, he is sucked into a world of black mail, violence and chaos.

Awards, Honors, Recognition

Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films
Winner:  Best Actress - Angela Bassett
Winner:  Best Director - Kathryn Bigelow
Nomination:  Best Actor - Ralph Fiennes
Nomination: Best Science Fiction Film
Nomination:  Best Writing

Cheer up. The world’s about to end in ten minutes anyway.

On my original viewing of this film, I wasn’t a huge fan. I took director Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break, The Hurt Locker) to task for her story-telling methods. At the time of my original review, I called it a “clunky, plodding action movie” that ran about 25 minutes too long. Now, I still think it runs a bit long, but I no longer believe it’s JUST an action movie.

I wrote it off as a mid-90s B-Level action movie where the “action” in the film is unexciting, kind of lame and a little cheesy. I ignored the fact that it’s actually not supposed to be an action movie at all. It’s more of an old-school detective movie, set amongst a futuristic background. All classic noir elements are there: the anti-hero detective, the femme fatale, the mystery. The action scenes seem to have been added almost as a way to keep the studio happy.

The story itself is solid. It has a few minor plot holes, and the “surprise” of the who villain turns out to be is telegraphed. Also, Cameron and Cocks got a little over-enthusiastic about the significance of their characters’ names: Nero, Faith, Jeriko, etc. Yeah, we get it guys, the city is burning on the eve of perhaps the last night on Earth. We get what you’re trying to do. Overall, however, it is a fun, original idea. As stated before it felt like an old noir film. One man involved in a seedy underworld (filled with femme fatales and violence aplenty) trying to solve a brutal murder, getting his ass handed to him several times along the way.

I have to give Kathryn Bigelow props for the composition of shots. The POV sequences when a user was “wired” are amazing, and given the state of technology in the mid-90s, I am stunned they pulled some of this off.

Also, let us not forget the cast. For those that think Ralph Fiennes can only play villains, whether it’s a Nazi, an evil wizard or a serial killer, I urge them to check out his turn at playing the good guy (for once.) Sometimes, admittedly, he goes a little over-the-top, but a good performance nonetheless. Tom Sizemore, Vincent D’Onofrio and William Fichtner all put in great supporting performances, and I am further convinced that no one can play unhinged homocidal psychopath quite as well as D’Onofrio. The real weak links in the cast are the two female leads: Juliette Lewis and Angela Bassett. Neither performace did anything for me, and I had a hard time buying that our hero Nero would fall for either of these two.

Strange Days more than succeeds visually, and Kathryn Bigelow demonstrates a true talent at this brand of filmmaking.  While not on the same level as its future noir cousin Blade Runner, the film remains underrated and under appreciated.