This is a tough one because a whole lot of people see Strange Days as one of the best science-fiction movies ever. But that could be said of many things.

            Strange Days is directed by Kathryn Bigelow, an interesting director who got a Best Picture for the rather crappy The Hurt Locker, and not for the rather exquisite Strange Days. It’s co-written by Jesu-I mean James Cameron- and this is easily and by far his best story to date. Not only that, it’s probably the best William Gibson movie of all time, and this isn’t even a William Gibson movie. Though I do like Johnny Mnemonic

Johnny Mnemonic is a little bit different from Strange Days

            The reason I consider this to be underrated is because even Roger Ebert, who gave it a four out of four stars, thought the ending was a bit lame. So far, there’s only one reviewer I’ve heard who didn’t think it was lame, and I agree, but I’m not gonna waste this review trying to explain why I like the third act, because I already did this with the Sunshine review.

            When I first saw this movie a few days ago two things happened – first, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it, aside from very minor nitpicks. Second, I got really sweaty. Now, it was a hot day and the fan wasn’t on, but I recall never being physically affected by a movie ever before. There was this sense of energy in this movie that not only goes to great lengths to heighten the chaos, but worked to compound the idea that the action is always building towards something, even when little to nothing is actually happening.

Nobody's really a good guy anymore

            The movie takes place over two days, the two days: Decembers 29 and 30, 1999. Whoa. So naturally, LA has became a near-police state, with army guys roving the streets in tanks, and people talking about the imminent Judgment Day on the radio (“what time zone is God in?”). But this is no ordinary two days before the turn of the millennium. This is the near future, 1999. So we have these things called Squids that attach to your brain and let you live a memory of somebody’s life – “straight from the cerebral cortex.”

            But you know, if you wanted to ski, you’d go up to Aspen. What we get from the Squids are the forbidden fruit, as one nervous businessman finds out during a deal with our ‘hero,’ Lenny Nero, played by Ralph Fiennes. He’s there to pitch and sell the Squid to this guy, going around to slummy hotels and bars. He meets up with his old buddy Max, his old buddy Mace, and his old flame Faith. Nobody likes Faith, except for Lenny and this guy Philo Gant, who’s the music manager of “one of the most important black men in America,” recently murdered.

            Without going too far into the story, this is a time of disorder, with racial tensions running high, and a dangerous abuse of the Squid on the black market. Mace Mason, played by Angela Bassett, has to protect Lenny from this world – they go out on adventures, a pairing that mirrors the Chase/Molly and Neo/Trinity combos from Gibson’s Neuromancer and cinema’s The Matrix, respectively. It’s a classic cyberpunk trope, as far as I know, and it works here.

Couldn't find too many images of this movie on Google, but if I were to choose, they'd be of Mace Mason, so that works

            In fact, this is one of the very best cyberpunk movies I’ve seen, up there with Blade Runner and A Scanner Darkly, and I’d say Robocop, but then I’d get laughed at. The key to cyberpunk is technology, and while the streets of Strange Days aren’t inhabited by cyborgs and spider-tanks, the Squid is interesting and applicable to the subgenre because of its horrible implications. It’s also almost fathomable, which is frightening.

            Eventually Lenny gets caught up in conspiracy involving a key murder, which washes up on his beach in the form of a recorded memory, which both shocks and disgusts him, as he doesn’t deal in snuff. This of course, is beyond that, and a couple of these memories come to him, and he soon becomes the target of… everyone.

            Strange Days is a movie that hits you hard – I don’t know if I’ve used the word visceral already (it’s one of my favorite words), but this movie has a very edgy feel to it. It’s violent, it’s fast, it’s vulgar, and it makes The Terminator look like Pixar’s latest in terms of content matter. But this is thematically consistent with the plot; it’s a movie that’s about the dangers of losing touch with your world, your life, your society, and the good things that come out of redemption. Therefore, there must be some bad stuff on screen to represent the flipside of the redemption equation.

The great director, Kathryn Bigelow. Gosh, The Hurt Locker was seriously weak

            The combination of the movie’s ideas and the movie’s energy make it bizarrely, forcefully thoughtful. It’s not like Ghost in the Shell, where the implications of the technology are talked about and talked about and sometimes shown; this is Strange Days, where there is plenty of talking, but there is also plenty of showing, thanks to its near 3-hour run time. Unlike all movies over two and a half hours, this movie never feels slow, and I never got bored.

            Speaking of the writing, James Cameron is at the top of his game here. Strange Days has an interesting script that does a great job fleshing out characters while constantly moving forward. The minor subtleties of the writing go a long way to making the far off year of 1999 real.

            In the end, Strange Days is one the best movies I’ve ever seen, a violent and emotionally charged cyberpunk action drama that does what all good movies do: entertain, first and foremost. But it also succeeds at provoking a good bit of classic science-fiction thought, but not just in that classic template “what if?” stuff. The technology and its effects on people are at the core of the movie, but that’s not really what was of interest to me at the roll of the credits – it was the characters, and I was more or less into the bigger themes and the chaotic imagery of the ending.

Here we have Lenny Nero, as played by Ralph Fiennes. Some people like to pick on his performance. I think it was pretty good

            The ending of course, was good, but a slightly cheesy. It seemed a bit Hollywood, if you will, but Strange Days is after all a movie, so I could shrug it off and appreciate it as a piece in a larger whole. Hopefully you can too, because for many, key moments in the climax are make-it-or-break-it. That’s a shame, because the build-up to those moments was totally, totally, solid.

(Check out the trailer here)