Kathryn Bigelow directs Ralph Fiennes, Angela Bassett and Juliette Lewis in this cyberpunk thriller where an ex-cop trades people’s first hand experiences, including sex and murder, on the eve of the millennium.
Trying to write a one line synopsis of Strange Days is an impossible task. The Rodney King inspired cop conspiracy that motors the plot is the least fascinating aspect of this sprawling “what if?”. Only really setting up the game pieces for a compulsive finale. There’s tons of paranoid pre-millennial tension. A pretty sleazy OTT backdrop of the exploitative world of being a rock star. The hook of the first person “clips” recorded on a “squid” device. Chases, robberies, orgies, showers, rape, murders, sexy dates… all recorded then traded to be experienced like cerebral crack cocaine. Bigelow spent a year planning some of these standout POV steadicam ballets and the results are visceral. Having said that you are exhausted by the third act, wiped out by the convoluted plot and all the sideshows. Even the big conclusion trundles a good 10 minutes past when it hits a peak. That peak though is amazing. Bassett chased by the killers through a NYE Y2K countdown rave that takes up an entire area code, drowned in massive confetti, the whole event teetering on a riot and the police seeing just another black face causing trouble. Tension overload. Beyond the spectacular set pieces this works best as an edgy hang-out movie. Fiennes is fun as the squirmy fuck up with a heart of gold. Bassett iconic as an angel in a warrior’s body. Lewis performing punkish covers of PJ Harvey in barely any clothes. Michael Wincott, Tom Sizemore, Richard Edson as untrustworthy types – full of clues and misdirection. When I originally saw this it was at a free preview organised by Empire magazine. You showed up stupid early on a Sunday morning and they issued you a ticket the size of a paperback book. As a teenager I was bound to be blown away by a James Cameron scripted sci-fi with a Skunk Anansie soundtrack. The movie became part of my rotation of steady rewatchers until I abandoned VHS, cemented Bigelow as one of “my” directors. Now, as an adult, I’ll concede it probably is too messy and too sprawling to deserve the adoration I used to give it. But I’d be interested to see what younger, first time viewers make of all this wild wallop.
Perfect Double Bill: Johnny Mnemonic (1995)
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