In the last few days of 1999, Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) has gotten himself into a lot of trouble. For starters, he is a former Los Angeles police officer who has become a sleazy dealer of illegal technology. You see, in 1999 Los Angeles, there are Superconducting Quantum Interference Devices (SQUIDs), which are cyberpunk tools for recording a person's point of view --- through their eyes, with their emotions and physical sensations --- and Lenny sells the recordings. Of course, this was over a decade ago, so you probably remember all this. SQUIDs are stylish, too, often taking on the appearance of obvious wigs.
|Either a SQUID or somebody scalped a robot|
|"What a catch." Apply the statement to either or both.|
For being a weird sci-fi movie, there sure are a lot of quality actors in Strange Days. Ralph Fiennes turns in an interesting lead performance; he plays Lenny as a broken man, only a shadow of what he had been. And yet, he is still capable enough to unravel a few mysteries and avoid getting killed on several occasions. The cool thing about Fiennes is that his performance would have made Lenny's failure just as believable as his success would --- Lenny is not your typical movie hero, because he actually needs his friends. Those friends turn in surprising performances, too. Angela Bassett gets to play a tough, no-nonsense cabbie that also happens to be pining away for Lenny while he bitches and moans about Faith. I don't know if we needed the romantic angle, but it was more depth than I expected from her buddy role. The other buddy is Tom Sizemore as a sleazy private detective; while I normally enjoy mid-90s Sizemore, his ridiculous hairpiece was too distracting for me.
|...or maybe I got lost in his dreamy eyes.|
|And from this seed, Law & Order: Criminal Intent would sprout.|
|Who could ever get over this?|
While I wouldn't say that any of the acting is all that good, I think the cast played up to the storyline pretty well and fit the general tone of the movie. I had some major problems with the direction, though. This was Kathryn Bigelow's follow-up to the successful and ridiculous bromance that was Point Break, and Strange Days definitely exhibits more confidence as a director than that film. Unfortunately, I believe that confidence was largely misplaced. Bigelow has trouble with the point-of-view camera work necessary to convey the experience of a SQUID recording; the sex scenes, in particular, felt like the cameraman was under strict orders to not follow a natural line of sight. The pacing of the film is erratic, and the tone suffers from a number of action scenes that have no falling action; that's fine in a tightly-wound and taught thriller, but those words do not describe this film, if only because it takes a while to progress anywhere with this story. And it is a long while, clocking in at almost two-and-a-half hours. I understand that James Cameron co-wrote the movie, but he is certainly no genius when it comes to the written word; some more editing would have been nice.
There are also a few stupid ideas in this fabricated future. That's to be expected from a lot of futuristic sci-fi movies, but these weren't errors in judging how we use technology, they are just poor choices. I liked that most of the characters in Strange Days dressed more or less like normal people (it was set only five years in the future, after all), but the exceptions to that rule looked idiotic. For instance, I don't care how eccentric the bad guy is, he's not going to hire a dread-locked albino woman wearing a bondage-themed outfit as a bodyguard, especially as a bodyguard who is sometimes called upon to assault and/or kill someone. Flashy bodyguards with a license to kill tend to stick out in people's memories. And why do only people in the future dress that stupidly?
|Wasn't she in the Matrix sequel?|
I would also like to ask what the deal is with characters who presume that their enemy has drowned. I don't know how many times I have seen a movie where a car goes into the water --- the bad guys may shoot at the underwater car, or they might not --- and the villains wait to confirm that the good guys are dead...but give up a few moments before the hero resurfaces. What is the big hurry? Are these bad guys late for an evil henchmen dinner party? If there's "no way anyone could have survived that," then why not wait a few more minutes until a body floats up? That happens pretty frequently in action scenes, but I thought Vincent D'Onofrio's impatience in this movie was especially bad.
Despite its shortcomings, Strange Days is a decently effective science fiction adventure. The story might have a few too many twists and turns to be truly effective, and the "future" is kind of quaint now, but it is a pretty well-realized future, and that deserves some respect. I thought the relationships between the various characters was pleasantly atypical; while the plot may have been almost stock for suspense/thrillers at times, the characters didn't ever comfortably fit into that mold. I would give this movie a higher rating, if not for one glaring flaw: there is absolutely no mention of Prince in this film. That's right, a movie that climaxes on New Year's Eve, 1999, and was released in 1995 (the height of Prince's "The Artist Former Known As" fame) did not have anyone partying to Prince's "1999." Talk about science fiction.
|"I've got a lion in my pocket, and baby he's ready to roar!"|