Strange Days Reviews
Set in Los Angeles two days before the year 2000, we follow Lenny Nero, an ex-cop turned black marketeer whose product of choice to peddle is a SQUID- a headpiece that allows one to transmit digital recordings of other people's thoughts, feelings, and memories directly into their brain. He sells both the discs, and the equipment. Sex and violence/crime are the primary subjects of request, though Lenny's one rule is that he doesn't deal in "blackjacks" or snuff clips.
When not doing his SQUID dealings, Lenny spends his time pining for Faith- his punk rocker ex-girlfriend who is now involved with a shady record executive named Philo Gant. This subplot then gets connected to the rest of the film when Lenny, after receiving a snuff clip of the rape and murder of a mutual friend of his and Faith's, gets embroiled in the resulting murder mystery, which is in turn connected to the recent death of a rapper/social activist on Gant's label.
This all sounds really convoluted and complex, but it's actually not. It's mostly just really difficult to try to easily explain without giving too much away, which I sort of already did to an extent. But not too much.
Anyways, this is a really intense and thrilling film. The basic ideas of the technology are apparently cribbed from the film Brainstorm which I have yet to see, but want to. I'm not sure how much of an input Cocks had here, but it may not have been much as Cameron also gets a 'story by' credit here. Another fun thing is to try to distinguish Cameron's style from Bigelow's. Sometimes this is really hard, but it adds another level of enjoyment to the proceedings.
The film pulls no punches when it comes to the dark and gritty subject matter and content, but mature and open minded viewers will probably find a lot to enjoy here. It's all done quite well, and comes off as earned as opposed to exploitative (and for the sake of it).
From a technical perspective, this film is a marvel. There SQUID sequences are appropriately done as POV, often times as long takes/tracking shots. The opening scene especially is quite impressive and effective. Cinematographer Matthew F. Leonetti needs a friggin' medal or something.
The performances are also pretty stellar. Ralph Fiennes is tremendous as the sleazy, yet rather empathetic Lenny. As his close friend and bodyguard "Mace" Mason, Angela Bassett is amazing, and this is easily her at her most badass. Her performance is quite strong, and she pulls off the action scenes fairly believably, too. There's also Juliette Lewis as Faith, Michael Wincott as Philo Gant, and Tom Sizemore as an associate of Lenny's. Vincent D'Onofrio and William Fichtner also appear as two unhinged rogue cops. All of these people put in some decent work, and this film is another occasion for Lewis to show off her singing skills.
Which brings me to the music. The score is decent, but the non-score soundtrack is where I was really pleased. There's tons of hip hop and heavy metal, and they perfectly complement the grungy/punk aesthetics of the world building, art direction, and set design.
All in all, this is quite an amazing film. It's more than solid, though I will say that it does run on for perhaps a tad too long, and the basic plot, though decent, is unoriginal. I mean, as I mentioned, it's basically just a really dressed up murder mystery. It's still pretty great though, so I highly recommend it.
Ralph Fiennes seems initially miscast, but soon wins over the audience as Lenny Nero, a sleazy racketeer who sells "memories" captured on some form of disk, similar to virtual reality but recorded from real experiences rather than computerised ones. He is desperately trying to get back with his ex-girlfriend Faith (Juliette Lewis), but she doesn't want him as she has hooked up with a music producer named Philo (Michael Wincott). Lenny acquires two disturbing tapes, one showing the rape and murder of a woman, the other showing a racially motivated slaying, and before he knows it he is on the run from the culprits who want to kill him before he exposes their crimes. The only person he can trust is his best friend, lady bodyguard Mace (Angela Bassett). To complicate matters further, his ex-girlfriend Faith seems to know something about the disks, and may either be involved in the crimes or at great risk from those responsible.
Bassett is the real star here, in the role of a lifetime as a morally strong and physically stronger heroine. Lewis plays the same old white trash girl she has played many times, but at least she has the experience to bring total conviction to the role. The production values are incredibly high, especially the party at the end which seems to realistically convey an entire city celebrating in the streets. The plot unfolds slowly, but this is a strength rather than a criticism. Each new development slots into place beautifully, and the audience is given time to get into the characters and the situations (which, in too many movies, we are not allowed to do since the pace is often too frenetic).
Strange Days is challenging and aggressive and frequently disturbing. It is also inventive and exciting and ingeniously staged. It is simply a terrific science film which any devotee of the genre absolutely must see.
Thankfully though, it was a bit better than average, mostly thanks to Cameron's great writing, that compensated for the otherwise mediocre directing and acting. It could probably have been even better though if they had cut down the running time by half an hour or so, but I suppose you can't always get everything you ask for.
Ralph Fiennes stars as Lenny, an ex-cop turned into what is essentially a drug dealer. He sells black market video technology allowing the viewer to experience, view, and feel various recorded memories.
He lives in a dystopian version of 1999 Los Angeles, plagued with riots against cops, gang wars, and restricted access to various parts of the city.
Talk radio host: Now, just so the, the rest of us know how much time is left, when is the rapture supposed to hit exactly? Is it midnight New Year's Eve?
Lori: That's right.
Talk radio host: Aha. Is that midnight L.A. time or, or Eastern Standard Time, or what? I mean, what timezone is God in anyway?
Lenny's associates include his best friend and bodyguard, a black women played nicely by Angela Bassett. His other friend, a PI played by Tom Sizemore. And his ex-girlfriend, now rock star played by Juliette Lewis.
The film takes place over the course of the final two days of 1999. A popular black rap artist has just been murdered, which could lead to even more rioting in the city. Many people believe in the end of the world approaching. Lenny himself becomes caught up in a possible murder conspiracy.
The movie takes a good hour to set up all of its characters before the plot actually starts to get underway. Within this time we learn of more seedy characters including some corrupt cops that includes Vincent D'Onofrio.
We also see just how dark things are in this film scripted and produced by James Cameron, who himself was influenced by the Rodney King events in 1992. Combined with female action director Kathryn Bigelow's visceral style of film making, there is a very good quasi-futuristic action story unfolding, complete with some noir overtones as well.
The video technology dealt out by Lenny serves as an interesting technique for the film, which uses it to great use. A lot of well done steadycam shots providing these memories are very creative to watch, and lend themselves to some of the dark stuff within this film.
Fiennes as Lenny is very good in his role as the protagonist who mainly talks his way out of troubles. His experiences within his own product are also effective.
This whole movie works as an effective thriller with a good story and performances, that unfortunately slipped under the radar in 1995, most likely because of how dark the depiction of the future was at the time.
Max: The issue isn't whether you're paranoid, but whether you're paranoid enough.
All in all a very unusual unique film, worth watching with a great performance from Ralph Fiennes