Although it may seem a bit dated now, with the action thriller cliches piled up and the focus on that Y2K sensation, Strange Days is yet another superior film from director Kathryn Bigelow. And it gets very dark indeed.
Ralph Fiennes plays Lenny Nero, an ex-cop who now makes a living selling experiences. Actual experiences. There's a gadget you can put on your head and Lenny will sell you recordings that will put you in the position of someone who has been through whatever you want to try out - sex with a gorgeous woman, breaking & entering, hardcore revelry, whatever you like. Unfortunately, someone recorded something very dangerous, which leads to people Lenny knows being killed. Lenny has to get to the bottom of things before it's decided that he'll also need taken out of the picture.
With a cast that includes Fiennes in the lead role, strong support from Angela Bassett, Tom Sizemore, Michael Wincott, and Juliette Lewis, and smaller roles for the likes of William Fichtner and Vincent D'Onofrio, Strange Days is a film not shy of talent in front of the camera. The first three mentioned there are the standouts, thanks to their positioning in the plot, but nobody lets the side down.
With Bigelow directing, and a script written by Jay Cocks and James Cameron, it's not shy of talent behind the camera either, and that translates into a slice of very slick entertainment.
The visual style of the film is remarkable, it's dark and gorgeous and cool throughout, and the pacing works well. The runtime is almost two and a half hours, but it doesn't feel as if it is ever outstaying its welcome. Graeme Revell creates an effective soundtrack to accompany the visuals, viewers are kept very much aware of the urgency of the situation, and twists and turns, although a tad easy to spot for afficianados of this kind of film, are interspersed nicely in between the set-pieces.
But what really sets this apart is the main idea being exploited. Some elements may have dated, including the tech on display, but this takes the concept of being able to experience the sensations that someone else is having and gives it an extra, VERY dark, twist. The fact that it manages to do so without making the whole thing seem too grimy and unpalatable is testament to the skills of everyone involved.
It's also worth bearing in mind, not unlike the various episodes of Black Mirror, that Strange Days shows us what can happen to technology when it can indulge the more warped whims of human nature. Something worth bearing in mind every time we try out VR, scour the internet, or just use one of the 160 apps on our smartphones. It doesn't take a huge leap in AI to turn machines against us. It just takes another human being.
UK people can get this lovely bluray here.
Americans have this DVD, for the moment.