Ex-cop Lanny Nero lives mainly through the lives of others and through his own memories of a better past. They are all recorded and he accesses them through an illegal brain interface. Things change when he accidentally witnesses a police conspiracy in someone else’s memories.
Strange Days is a little known science fiction movie from 1994. It is little watched, unfortunately, and underrated, but loved by a small cult following. I do not see myself as part of this following because I only recently learned of this movie’s existence. I decided to check it out.
So, shot in 1994, Strange Days tells of the exciting future of 1999. More precisely, the final days of December 1999 just before 2000 and the Y2K craze. Coasting on the whole End-of-days apocalypse mood surrounding the year 2000, Strange Days depicts the future 1999 as a grim and violent place, as if the apocalypse was in full swing. The main character Lanny Nero is played by Ralph Fiennes, who in his younger years looked like Bradley Cooper does now. Lots of well-known faces in this movie from the 90s besides Ralph Fiennes, like Juliette Lewis in a typical trashy seductive role, William Fichtner and Vincent D’Onofrio as typical serious bad guys.
After an exciting opening, we see Nero driving the streets of LA while firebombs go off, police is everywhere and there are tanks on the streets. 1999 is a gritty cyberpunk place in which people can buy each other’s memories and see events from the other person’s eyes. The opening scenes are one of those memories. To modern eyes, these scenes look like an early version of a found-footage movie.
The first half of the movie is loud and sexy, but in a curiously 90s way. This means lots of grunge music, bars and streets at night, but with camerawork that is much calmer and blander than you’d see today. It is an engaging movie with some good points and bad points. It is a bit overdone with flashy shots. The dialogues are very good, surprisingly quotable even, but early on in the film the story doesn’t have the emotional weight to really do them justice.
The movie is also a bit uneven at the same time, for example that it takes quite a long time for the plot to start rolling. Basically the whole first half of the movie is the introduction. While the movie is too preoccupied with creating a character study of Lanny Nero, he really isn’t that interesting and we’re waiting for some action. I get the feeling that the story would have worked better as a serious comic book. When that action finally comes, it is… disturbing.
During the middle part, my interest started to evaporate. The villains weren’t interesting in the least. The mayhem on the streets and techno-grunge-future mood was slightly ridiculous. What was interesting were the character choices. Fiennes plays a bum, and his biggest ally and friend is an strong yet caring black woman (Angela Bassett). The movie portrays this very well without the superficial choice of making her a macho woman but a genuine character (she takes off her heels when running – take note, Jurassic World).
It all picks up towards the end. The focus on character that bogged the film down in the first half, actually saved the film in the second half. First we wanted action that didn’t came, and then the action was uninteresting but the characters began to grow further. And then the whole film began to grow into something more, something with substance. It is a bigger movie than it looks at first, but it took too long to get there. Some cutting of scenes in the first half would have made it much stronger.