“Strange Days” is a strange film on all fronts, taking liberty with its plot of 90s-era science fiction and cast for an intriguing and somewhat prophetic concept that succeeds in putting the viewer in a dark and grisly dystopia version of LA that keeps you on edge from start to finish.
The events of “Strange Days” occur on December 30 and 31, 1999. Three-time Academy Award nominee Ralph Fiennes plays Lenny Nero, a former cop who now works as an illicit dealer of SQUID recordings – a technology created by the feds in which one person acts as a recorder of events that they are experiencing. A viewer then has the ability to watch the recordings, and to experience first hand the sights and emotions of the person that had been recording.
“It’s not like TV only better.” Lenny explains to a potential buyer of the black market recordings. “This is life. It’s a piece of somebody’s life. Pure and uncut. Your’re there, doing it, seeing it, feeling it. The stuff you cant have. The forbidden fruit.”
The technology is demonstrated throughout and offers a glimpse of what the SQUID recordings can do, from a crippled man experiencing the feeling of running barefoot through the shore, or the invigorating first person perspective of an armed robbery that opens the movie.
When a recording of a racially charged murder and potential police cover-up is delivered to Lenny, the clock is ticking on him solving the crime before midnight strikes on the millennium and a feared civil war in Los Angeles begins.
The atmosphere created by producer/writer James Cameron (“Titanic“) and director Kathryn Bigelow (“Zero Dark Thirty“) is what makes “Strange Days” so captivating. The setting is dark, both literally in the constant nighttime ambiance (we never see daylight throughout the story) and in its metaphoric powder-keg of violence between the people of Los Angeles and the militaristic and brutal LAPD.
Scenes occur in various parts of the realm, including a bizarre fetish club, or the confines of Lenny’s tiny apartment – filled with shadows and occasionally illuminated by the blinking of neon lights on the streets below. Sirens seem present in the background the entire timer. It feels more like Gotham than beachy Malibu.
The bevy of weird underbelly characters present throughout seem more likely to be found in the codes of a video game like Grand Theft Auto then in the City of Angels. Fiennes is great leading the cast as Lenny Nero, skilled as a former policeman but now succumbing to the nature of his illicit business.
Assisting Lenny is bodyguard/driver Mace Mason (Angela Bassett) who delivers each and every line in such a perfect deadpan way you’d think she were a comic illustration brought life. Rounding out the cast is Lenny’s equally sleazy friend Max (Tom Sizemore), character actor Richard Edson as another SQUID dealer, and the great Michael Wincott as the antagonistic Philo Grant – a perfect role for Wincott who at one point advises that paranoia is just “reality on a finer scale.”
Compounding the chaos is a pair of corrupt cops (Vincent D’Onofrio & William Fichtner), who act like wild west outlaws having no concern for innocent bystanders as they shoot recklessly into crowds in effort to take down perps.
The scenes that depict the SQUID recording are brilliant, acting like a futuristic drug in the days before social media likes and comments. They serve as an escape from reality and can be used for good, as demonstrated by the joy the legless man achieves while running on the beach, or an unhealthy obsession as we watch Lenny with dozens of recordings that depict he and former lover Faith (Juliette Lewis).
“Strange Days” is a thriller that has the ambiance that makes it unique. Fans of comic style and neo-noir movies like “Sin City” or “Se7en” will feel right at home in the dark and brooding metropolis depicted.
by – Matt Christopher