(Kathryn Bigelow, USA, 1995) 145 minutes


Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Producers: James Cameron,
  Steven-Charles Jaffe
Screenplay: Jay Cocks,
  James Cameron (from his story)
Cinematography: Matthew F. Leonetti
Editor: Howard Smith
Music: Graeme Revell

Ralph Fiennes (Lenny Nero)
Angela Bassett (Lornette 'Mace' Mason)
Juliette Lewis (Faith Justin)
Tom Sizemore (Max Peltier)
Michael Wincott (Philo Gant)
Vincent D'Onofrio (Burton Steckler)
Glenn Plummer (Jeriko One)
Josef Sommer (Palmer Strickland)

Reviews and notes

1995 Venice, New York
1996 Wellington
2007 Brussels
2010 Santa Barbara

The pre-millennial tension of Strange Days, filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow’s noir-tinged sci-fi thriller, may have seemed bleak when the film hit theaters in October 1995. But viewed today, the vision it presents of a culture obsessed with virtual reality and capturing every moment in digital playback feels (pardon the pun) strangely forward-thinking. Set on New Year’s Eve, 1999, Strange Days follows Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes), an ex-cop who deals in SQUID technology – discs that allow users to experience recorded moments (everything from running on the beach to armed robbery) through a virtual reality device attached to their head. After a disc depicting a graphic murder falls into Lenny’s hands, he becomes embroiled in a conspiracy involving dirty cops, a slain hip-hop artist and his grunge rocker ex-girlfriend (Juliette Lewis). Luckily Angela Bassett as Lenny’s badass, gun-toting limo driver pal Mace is along for the thrilling ride. Critics were polarized on Strange Days at the time of its release, but viewed through the lens of Bigelow’s Oscar-winning work on The Hurt Locker, Strange Days is another of the filmmaker’s sharp dissections of male violence towards women and an indictment of our culture’s voyeuristic tendencies. A box office failure that halted Bigelow’s big screen career for several years, Strange Days proved to be too raw for moviegoers still reeling from the L.A. riots and the O.J. Simpson trial. But 23 years later, Strange Days demonstrates both how far we’ve come and (sadly) how far we’ve regressed. While the techno thrash soundtrack might harken back to the ‘90s, the film’s racial and sexual politics remain freshly relevant.
- Nick Nadel, HBO, 2018.

As the millennium approaches in Los Angeles, ex-cop Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) has fallen on hard times. Having been let go by both the LAPD and former love, Faith (Juliette Lewis), Lenny now sells memory disks which can give the user any experience that someone has recorded. However, as the New Year celebrations approach, Lenny gets his hands on a disk that could unhinge society and must rely on his two closest friends, bodyguard Mace (Angela Bassett) and private investigator Max (Tom Sizemore), to help him do the right thing.

Despite potentially appearing as a straightforward action excursion, there’s a lot going on in Strange Days. While giving us a damn good conspiracy thriller on the surface, it also takes time to render a serious character arc concerned with moving on from past woes, a commentary on technology as a new form of drug and an examination of the fragility of racial harmony...

Additionally, with legendary filmmaker James Cameron producing and writing, Strange Days feels like one of his movies. We have the strong female figure Mace, who is more than capable of kicking ass a la Ripley from Aliens and Sarah Connor from T2. We have the reluctant male hero struggling to accept his role in saving the future, much like T2’s John Connor. We also have a Terminator-like dystopian future where the once pleasant LA has become a cesspool of decay, on the verge of destroying itself. With all this in mind (as well as the fact promotional material misleadingly labelled it as “A James Cameron Movie”) you’d be forgiven for thinking that ‘Iron’ Jim sat in the director’s chair.

In actual fact, credit belongs to his ex-wife, Kathryn Bigelow. Delivering another visceral cracker that proves cult-favourite Point Break was no celluloid flash in the pan, Bigelow delivers a neo noir that hides its hope and redemption under a throbbing veil of paranoia, tension and adrenalin. As for the very first scene – which is reminiscent of Keanu’s foot chase in the aforementioned surfing flick – it’ll have even the most knowledgeable film fans scratching their heads as to how it was filmed. You got any idea, you let us know.

However, that’s not to say Strange Days is merely eye candy and fancy camera work. Like you’d expect from a Cameron script, it oozes originality, the internal logic is so impressive it withstands examination and the characterisation remains in the foreground despite some vein-bulging set pieces. As for our ‘hero’ Lenny, Fiennes flawlessly portrays a once-good man whose bad experiences and past-love have reduced him into a sleazy “Santa of the subconscious” dealer. In supporting terms, Bassett is strong (literally) though underdeveloped, Sizemore is capable despite occasionally nibbling scenery and Michael Wincott is perfectly husky as resident ‘bad guy’ of the piece.

Strange Days is another great ‘Cameron’ movie and deserves to be more well-known than it is. A Hollywood movie with creativity, flair and bundles of originality? These are strange days indeed.
- Stephen Carty, Eye For Film, 11 December 2008.

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