STARRING: Ralph Fiennes, Angela Bassett, Juliette Lewis, Tom Sizemore, Michael Wincott, Vincent D'Onofrio, Richard Edson, Glenn Plummer

1995, 145 Minutes, Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow

Science 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 name it.

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: Underrated. Violent end-of-the-millennium action movie with unlikely hero Ralph Fiennes. Cyberpunk thriller ultimately worth seeing despite its unlikely ending.


# 65
of the
Top 100 Sci-Fi Movies
of all time




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