Strange Days (Kathryn Bigelow, 1995)
[originally posted 7Mar2001]
Bigelow, who bought centuries off her and her descendents’ time in purgatory by crafting the almost-perfect film Near Dark, celebrated that film’s tenth anniversary by teaming up with James “my ego is Titanic” Cameron for what, on the surface, looks like a Millennium Tension-gimmick one-off. It’s too bad Bigelow, who’s known for bucking trends, allowed herself to get sucked into working a gimmick film. Bigelow’s directorial skills and Cameron’s writing skills could have easily turned this into another Near Dark, but their need for a quick fix shot them in the foot. If you can look past the silliness of the New Year’s Eve 1999 hysteria, however, there’s a lot to like here.
The story centers on Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes), a former vice cop who now deals in small 3″ CD-lookin’ things capable of storing and playing back physical experiences. An anonymous contributor starts sending him discs of the contributor’s murders with an especially sick twist; the murderer straps the victim into the same recorder, thus allowing the victim and the murderer to feel each other’s emotions as the deed takes place. Now that’s a mindbender.
Between that and Nero’s obsessive playing of his own tapes from a failed relationship, one assumes that the film is going to take the usual hysterical “machines out of control” approach, but Cameron pulls his fat out of the fire on a fairly regular basis by allowing that the technology does have its good uses, something rare in technothrillers. Add an exceptionally high-caliber supporting cast (Tom Sizemore, Juliette Lewis, Vincent D’Onofrio, the everpresent William Fichtner, a surprisingly fine turn from Angela Bassett as the female lead… you get the idea) and the whole thing comes together like biscuits and pork gravy. It doesn’t have the harried, claustrophobic feeling that made Near Dark such a fabulous thrill ride, but it’s certainly another Bigelow film that stands up to repeated viewings.
Extra special mention should be made here of Glenn Plummer, who’s starting to match William Fichtner in “number of minor roles this guy pops up in in great films.” Plummer is the guy all the action centers around, an angry young rapper found dead just before the beginning of the film, shot execution-style. He has a minimal amount of total screen time here, and his character is decidedly unlikable, but he’s hypnotic every time he’s on the screen. Keep his name in mind, if you don’t already know it; if there’s any justice in this world, someone will put all the pieces from this, Trespass, Menace II Society, Colors, and a handful of other excellent minor parts this guy’s done together and get him into headlining roles ASAP. ****