Fiennes, Angela Bassett, Juliette Lewis, Tom Sizemore, Michael Wincott, Vincent D'Onofrio,
Richard Edson, Glenn Plummer
1995, 145 Minutes, Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
fiction is more often about the present - something few people can understand about a
genre that seems mostly intent on playing off in the future.
At the very least science
fiction reflects the dreams and hopes and attitudes of the time in which it was made. Take
for example the implicit belief in technology and American superiority in the original
1960s Star Trek. Contrast this to the plot of 1990s Star Trek Voyager - lost
in space and aimlessly drifting around, looking for a way back home.
Nowhere is this more
apparent than in Strange Days. The future in this film is depressingly familiar to
the 1990s audience: it is New Year's Eve 1999. Los Angeles is the scene of endless
rioting, social unrest, a new technology (drug?) makes it possible for you to experience
other people's direct experiences (the logical outcome of virtual reality?), paranoia, you
Yes, this is Cyberpunk
territory all right: high-tech yet dilapidated, neon and concrete. Into this scenario is
thrown Ralph Fiennes as the likeable anti-hero, a small-time reality drug pusher who seems
to live on his memories of a happy relationship with a rock singer
who-has-made-it-big-and-left-him-in-the-meantime Juliette Lewis. He discovers the truth
about the brutal slaying of a politically radical rap singer by the police. The hunt is
on. Everybody seems to want him dead.
"Deserved a bigger audience despite its shallow ending . . ."
Much of the movie rests on
Fiennes (who did an excellent portrayal of a dumb yet brutal concentration camp
commander in Schindler's List). He gives us a sleazy yet affable fast-talking
anti-hero short on macho heroics. In fact, if it wasn't for the mean mother character
played by Angela Basset he would have been knocked off early on in the movie. Much of the
movie is as off-beat as the Fiennes character - visually haunting and politically cynical.
As far as dystopias go, this one of the most powerful ever seen on celluloid - probably
because it is so real. A tour de force . . .
But then comes the last
twenty or so minutes. It would suddenly seem that the film makers realised what they were
doing (making an intelligent and memorable film in Hollywood!) and decided to tack on a
happy ending that feels as out of place as punks attending a Beethoven concert. What
begins as a potential riot as one of the characters is sadistically beaten by police al à
Rodney King soon degenerates into the hero and heroine happily kissing in the midst of the
crowd. The future is more of the same it would seem one thinks leaving the theatre. The
same clichés, that is . . .
All of this is a shame
because I have rarely seen a film so ruined by a tacked on happy ending. (The other being The Abyss - strangely enough directed by James Cameron one of the
screen writers on this movie.)
Try walking out before the
ending . . .
(This film is directed by
Kathryn Bigelow who is a true rarity: a woman action movie director in Hollywood. Needless
to say, this particular perspective has given her some new angles on the genre as
witnessed by this film and her previous Point Break in which she does some
interesting things with an otherwise testosterone-injected subject. Unfortunately Strange
Days didn't do as well at the box office which is a shame because
it deserved a bigger audience despite its shallow ending. . .)
Sci-Fi Movie Page Pick:
Violent end-of-the-millennium action movie with unlikely hero Ralph Fiennes. Cyberpunk
thriller ultimately worth seeing despite its unlikely ending.
Top 100 Sci-Fi
of all time