A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Strange Days

March 9, 2010

Strange Days

A conversation I had with my wife when I heard that Kathryn Bigelow had directed the Oscar nominated Hurt Locker:

Me: Kathryn Bigelow – why does that name sound familiar?

Amanda: You know her.  She directed Strange Days.

Me: I thought that was her!  That movie rocks!

So when Kathryn Bigelow won the Oscar two days ago we decided to watch Strange Days as a celebration of sorts.  But, really, I don’t need an excuse to watch this movie.  It’s one of the best noir sci-fi films ever made… and yet I haven’t watched it in ages.  Not sure why.  Maybe it’s some of the intense violence that is portrayed.  You do really get sucked into this movie – and it’s hard to let yourself care for the characters in the film when they’re in for such a rough ride.

The premise of Strange Days is really gripping.  It takes place in the not-too-distant future (which in this case is new year’s eve 1999.)  The world is pretty much just like our world, only in the verge of martial law because eveybody’s crazy with millennium fever.  Oh, and there’s this magic tech called “tapping” that lets you record your complete sensory input and re-live it.  Or re-live the input of anybody else who has tapped.  Ralph Fiennes plays Lenny, a down on his luck ex-cop who makes a living (almost) selling black market wire recordings.  An acquaintance of his and friend of his ex girlfriend Faith is brutally murdered.  She was mixed up in something – something that involves the cops and a murdered singer.  From there it’s a Raymond Chandleresque noir thriller, which means most of the time Lenny is on the run, getting beat up, and doesn’t know who to trust.

Like his friend Max tells him “The issue is not whether you’re paranoid.  The issue is whether you’re paranoid enough.”

What’s impressive is how Bigelow builds the tension, introduces you to the world and manages to make the characters so human.  You can’t help caring about Lenny and his sad devotion to his lost love (played by a slinky all-growed-up Juliette Lewis.)  Then there’s his one true friend – the only person who hasn’t given up on him and who repeatedly pulls his bacon out of the fire as he gets deeper and deeper in over his head – played with fire and passion by Angela Bassett in the performance of a lifetime.  The story takes the lead here, the characters are more important than the setting or the special effects.  Indeed the whole wire-head thing is treated only as a great plot device that lets you literally get inside the heads of the characters.  It involves some great camera tricks as well, and you know that a lot of effort went into it, but it works so seamlessly that most of the time you don’t even notice.

The first ten minutes of the movie are a single continuous first-person take – and there’s  commentary track that’s a half-hour symposium that Kathryn Bigelow gave on how they accomplished that.  But after you’ve been through those ten minutes you totally believe the world this whole film takes place in, the technology of the wireheads just exists.

This movie is part of the reason I love this whole movie-a-day project.  I love watching truly great movies, and this really is one.  Believe me.  And let me just re-iterate: Angela Bassett – performance of a lifetime!  Best thing in this movie, and that’s saying something.

My one small quibble would be I suppose that the movie becomes a little bit more action-movieish in the very end, probably the work of producer/writer James Cameron.  But, I suppose that’s okay too: it’s not the same mood as the rest of the film, but it leaves you with a great adrenal rush and a satisfied feeling at the end of it all.


March 9, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,


  1. I’m adding this to my Netflix queue right now. it sounds fabulous!

    Comment by Marie | March 10, 2010 | Reply

    • I’m so glad that our project is introducing you to some new movies. Plenty more to come!

      Comment by tanatoes | March 10, 2010 | Reply

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