You know I’m not always reviewing the newest and latest movies n blockbusters but Strange Days is like I really dug deep into the forgotten films box. It’s from 1995 ffs! And despite it being by the fancied Kathryn Bigelow and features a classy cast it bombed at the box office. And here is why!
Set in the year 1999 during the last days of the old millennium, the movie tells the story of Lenny Nero, an ex-cop who now deals with data-discs containing recorded memories and emotions. One day he receives a disc which contains the memories of a murderer killing a prostitute. Lenny investigates and is pulled deeper and deeper in a whirl of blackmail, murder and rape. Will he survive and solve the case?
From today’s perspective we can clearly state the 90s didn’t age well, know what I mean? Maybe with a better marketing Strange Days would’ve had done better back then, and people who’ve watched it in ’95 can verify that it was way more exciting to watch SD before the new millenium. And that’s another weakness of SD: Those gazes 5 minutes into the future aren’t as exciting as “real” science fiction. The 1999/2000 time as predicted by Bigelow was kinda forseeable back in 95 for everyone with the ability of critical thinking and political awareness. Of course did Kathryn Bigelow show us an even more broken and deconstructed America but didn’t we all think it would be like that by the very end of the 20th century? I mean with all the social and racial unrest n all that? So what I missed from SD very much was Bigelow’s visionary storytelling. The depicted world felt already a bit dated back then.
So, the story in itself was a solid film noir, a dirty hardboiled detective story. Ok, that’s good on one hand since it sets a perfect basis for Bigelow’s furious photography and breathless orchestration. Although for the old woman I’m now the editing was too hectic, too MTV-ish, another thing I thought we had behind us already in 95. Obviously not. Hmm.
What I liked was how Ralph Fiennes pulled off the shabby ex-cop; a cliché I’d never thought he’d be capable of playing. Less believable was Tom Sizemore as the sloppy Max while the female roles were played quite appropriately. As we all know in these kind of stories, women are mostly just used as plot tools, as clichés. The more so in a movie where even the heroes are nothing but clichés themselves. So there were not many opportunities to really shine for Angela Basset and Juliette Lewis. Still Basset was really strong in this while Lewis did her best … which ain’t much.
What really bugged me about Strange Days was its lazy treatment of the story and the cowardish way in which the script writers and Mrs. Bigelow tried to avoid everything that would make the movie really exciting. Apart from the badly defined and explained VR devices we could have done with a whole lot more of cyberpunk … and be it as mild as crazy fashion, some crazy cars, some new words, heck, just about anything would’ve done it for me. No, yes, I know it’s only 5 years into the future but what the fuck? Misses Bigelow, step 20 years into the future and make it a bit more exciting, add a bit more pizzaz and you’d gained millions more of amazed audiences. A half-baked try like Strange Days was destined to bomb. And that it did. It just had to.
So, with some more imaginative power Strange Days had easily turned out to become the next Blade Runner (a good but totally overrated movie imNOTho). Because, let’s face it, what made Blade Runner such a work of vision and a theatrical tour de force was not the story in itself but its atmosphere, its strangeness – something Strange Days carries in its name but failed to deliver – and its bravado of showing us new stuff, stuff we haven’t seen before. And all that packaged in a formerly quite familiar city. That’s filmmaking with guts and grit. That’s what separates mere stage plays (SD) from great movies (BR).
Okay, granted BR was like totally unrealistic as its story plays in 2019, which ain’t far from now. And it doesn’t need much of a visionary ability to predict we won’t have that advanced level of technology by then, and most of us won’t be able to speak more than a few words Mandarin and we won’t have wars in the outer rim but … know what I’m getting at? … it doesn’t matter. Every movie about the future is wrong and inaccurate, but when you go that route, do so in a bold and decisive manner.
Give us fuking flying cars, give us the most outrageous fashion items, give us totally changed morality and ideology, new drugs and weapons, but don’t tread on that path as lightly as Kathryn Bigelow and/or her studio, production house, screenwriter did. Give the audience its Awe, its WOW effect. They paid for the movie ticket to get exactly that, not to see you dancing around the pudding.
Okay, enough of the negativity. Apart from all the problems Strange Days loaded upon itself it was quite an entertaining movie, fast paced and gripping. Kathryn Bigelow managed, in her typically undercooled style, to draw us to the edge of our seats. Or let’s say, she could have if the characters were a bit more encouraging. But no, we got them served as they are, raw, underdeveloped and unsympathetic. The story was full of twists and turns and the end only forseeable if you watched and judged the characters very carefully from the first minute onwards. But at least hubby and me, we didn’t feel like we had to care about any of them. Of course they could’ve shaved off maybe 20 to 30 minutes of the movie’s runtime to compress the story but that’s just a petty criticism as it became apparent they didn’t use the additional time for some much needed character developmemt.
CONCLUSION: Strange Days is a weird film, just like its director Kathryn Bigelow it oscillates in between moments of greatness mixed with OMG total crap, facepalm. BigeIow, while utterly talented in creating great images, is kinda wibbly wobbly when it comes to chosing the correct source material.
I lurved that woman for her truly visionary Point Break (where vision wasn’t even necessary) and absolutely hated her for the tearjerking Hurt Locker (a movie she couldn’t save even with the best camera ever). Of course she won her Oscar for that one because … politics.