Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days is a bizarre oddity of a film; it’s almost impossible to think that this film got made. This is an unwieldy film full of big ideas, ideas about race, about sex, visions of the future that prove prescient in some ways and bizarrely misguided in others. If Strange Days represents something of a creative misfire on Bigelow’s part, a film that is almost unpalatable to watch because of how far out of left field it is, it also represents a complete, bold creative swing.
Strange Days stars Ralph Fiennes as Lenny Nero, a former LA cop who now deals in black market SQUID discs that allow their users to experience memories from another person’s perspective. Lenny quickly becomes entangled in a sprawling murder mystery that threatens to drag his closest companions down with him.
Fiennes is an interesting choice for a lead int his kind of film; at first, I wasn’t convinced because he wears a pretty-boy look for this role; upon further reflection, it’s perfect casting. This isn’t meant to be a tough guy sci-fi stereotype – this is a more gentle man forced into a world he’s not comfortable with, and instead of being an ass-kicker, he turns to badass bodyguard Mace, played by Angela Bassett, for muscle. This kind of role reversal plays very intentionally – it’s hard to imagine someone as carefully intentioned as Kathryn Bigelow made a decision like this for anything other than particular creative reasons.
Strange Days has an overall stellar supporting cast, featuring a number of recognizable character actors, faces like Tom Sizemore, Juliette Lewis, William Fichtner, and Vincent D’Onofrio. The mix of recognizable faces manages to be the perfect blend for this film, with the more recognizable actors adding colorful notes of personality throughout.
Bigelow’s direction in Strange Days is top notch, particular the SQUID sequences that are filmed in the first-person perspective; it’s a bold and exciting film, entirely a creative swing. Ultimately, for me I found this film to be a bit of a creative miss though – I struggled to connect with any of the characters, finding all but Mace to be unlikable. Perhaps, more importantly, I simply felt like this film bit off more than it could chew. There are so many ideas, so many threads and stories and ideas, in Strange Days, and it lays lots of railroad track that it never pays off.
For instance, one of the key subplots of Strange Days follows the murder of rapper Jeriko One; though it approaches some important and fascinating subjects, it never quite crosses the threshold it needs to cross to nail the landing. Some of the concluding action sequences and moments of the film feel at odds with the overall tone of the film; that this film ends in a so-called “happy ending” that is wholly unearned feels entirely inappropriate to the mood and setting.
I wish this film had nailed the landing; ultimately I found this to be a provocative and interesting film if ultimately a problematic one. If nothing else, I’d definitely be interested to see Kathryn Bigelow return to her roots as a director of genre fare.