I've never really given much thought to what the turn of the millennium is going to bring. Will it be a new beginning for society and the world? Or will it bring on the apocalypse foretold by Revelations?
Strange Days continuously plays these two possibilities off of each other, and in L.A., on December 31, 1999, it seems either one is equally likely. Ralph Fiennes plays Lenny Nero, a bottom-feeder ex-cop who peddles "clips," full-sensory pieces of memory from real people's lives. These clips are played on "the wire," a device which delivers experiences directly into the brain. The very illegal wire is also the source of a whole slew of problems, including the murder of one Jeriko One, a very influential rap star, and the subsequent stalking of Faith (Juliette Lewis), Nero's ex-girlfriend, for whom he still pines.
As it turns out, this Jeriko has been heralded as the next Messiah, and the circumstances of his murder stand to cause riots of unprecedented horror. When a clip containing the identity of Jeriko's killers falls into Nero's hands, it's anybody's guess who he can trust.
The greatest part of Strange Days is easily the first-person photography that is used whenever a clip is played--so the audience gets to see everything as if they're part of the action. This is remarkably effective, and as it gets more and more gruesome later in the film, the technology's dangers are almost palpable.
Fiennes is terrific, as is Angela Bassett, who plays his best friend, Mace. Nero's insecurity is truly refreshing in this day and age of indestructible action heroes, and although his frequent confessions to Mace wear thin after two or three of them, he still does plenty with the role to make the character real: he is selling bits of people's lives but doesn't have one of his own.
Sadly, Strange Days is no bed of roses. Example: here's what I learned about the future. In 1999, playing really, really bad rap music is almost enough to earn you sainthood. In 1999, no one wears much in the way of clothes, especially female rock singers. In 1999, the music pretty much sucks, too. And everyone gets beat up. A lot. And no one seems to mind.
While the film is intriguing all the way through, it never really gels together. Director Kathryn Bigelow does some admirable work, but the result is a Blade Runner meets Clockwork Orange meets Rodney King, and some strange hybrid results that makes Strange Days feel like two movies playing at once. It's a troubling problem that is fortunately balanced by the style of the feature, but the end result is an interesting little film that's just, well, "strange."