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Overall Rating
3.78

Awesome45.76%
Worth A Look: 20.34%
Average: 5.08%
Pretty Bad: 23.73%
Total Crap: 5.08%

4 reviews, 35 user ratings


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Strange Days
[AllPosters.com] Buy posters from this movie
by David Hollands

"Strange, overlong, loud, and boring."
2 stars

I have to admit quite shamefully that when I put in a DVD to enjoy a good 90 minutes of visual entertainment, I usually check out most of the special features first (unless there’s a major spoiler revealed in one of them). Before taking in Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days, I noticed on the DVD that there were only two deleted scenes taken from a 145-minute movie. That alone should be indicative of but one of the major problems of this incredible bore of a film.

We get off to a thrilling start as we find ourselves watching a robbery from the point of view of one of the robbers. We run through a Chinese restaurant assaulting people, fly up staircases, shoot at cops as they shoot back at us, and finally plunge to our deaths when we try to jump unsuccessfully from the roofs of one building to another. This amazing technology is called S.Q.U.I.D., which allows one to experience moments of actual peoples’ lives as if one were actually living those moments, and it’s banned by the end of 1999 (when the film is set). Lenny Nero is a black market dealer of disks containing the above-mentioned moments. He soon finds himself in the middle of a freakish murder/cover-up/conspiracy when Iris, a prostitute Lenny knows, drops a disk containing her witnessing a horrendous moment into his car. Iris is soon raped and murdered, prompting Lenny to discover the assailant responsible. At the same time, the assailant is murdering Lenny’s cohorts and leaving S.Q.U.I.D. disks behind for Lenny to find.

That summary explains but a small fraction of the overall plot, which contains many characters and plot revelations (most of which you can see coming miles away). Unfortunately, a great concept has been disastrously over-written and extended to ridiculous length. For the first hour of Strange Days, we get to know the world and the characters while what is soon to become the main plot is revealed to us only in short segments. This works for a while. As we see Iris being chased by two desperate police officers interspersed with Lenny’s life, one gets hyped up as to what is going to happen in Iris’ storyline, and what plot revelations one will soon experience. Then Iris drops her incriminating disk in Lenny’s car, and we wait…and wait…and wait. Instead of the screenplay continuing with its intriguing main plotline, we then get to witness about forty minutes of Lenny dealing illegal disks and trying to get back his lost love named Faith. We also get to wait as Lenny’s rocky friendship with sexy limousine driver Lornette is shown to us. I think I understand why this approach has been taken. Ms. Bigelow appears to want us to understand completely the futuristic world in which this film is set. She also appears to want us to understand the characters, what they do, their relationships, etc. Problem is, any audience member with half (Hell, even a quarter) of a brain can immediately understand the world in the film. Thus, one doesn’t need forty more minutes of exposition to “get” the setting. Information is relayed effectively enough in the first five minutes of the film.

But what of the characters in these forty minutes? If their plights are interesting enough and they are interesting enough, then the forty minutes of exposition is justified. What do we get? One of the oldest, most boring and typical plot devices imaginable. Lenny tries desperately to get back the woman that he lost some time ago, and must suffer as she chooses a life with drugged up and paranoid record producer Philo instead. Most of these early scenes have Lenny trying to get Faith back. The scenes usually end with him crying or looking sad. It’s all pretty ho-hum and boring, and I really wanted more of the mystery to unfold. Unfortunately, in presenting us with about forty minutes of boredom, the film allows us to figure out the mystery way ahead of the characters. That’s never a good sign, especially when the characters themselves only figure it out long after the forty minutes of boredom. This means about another hour of boredom for the audience. I mean, come on. We’re shown images of a rapper on television, then we hear of the rapper’s demise, then we see Iris being chased by evil cops, we know there’s a tape with incriminating evidence on it, and so on. If you seriously can’t figure out what’s on the tape or how the mystery will reveal itself, you’ve only seen about two films in your life. And if that’s the case, consider yourself lucky…you’ll actually be able to enjoy Strange Days.

Now let’s discuss a pretty non-interesting subplot involving the murderer picking off those who have come into contact with Lenny and the tape. Same as the mystery, it’s all too easy to figure out given the length of the film. To be fair to Ms. Bigelow, the murder scenes or the post-murder scenes have a real intensity courtesy of one creepy-as-Hell plot device. Basically, our assailant tapes the murders while hooking the victims into his S.Q.U.I.D. Thus, the victims see themselves being killed and their fear is doubled while they experience the killer’s joy. As shameful as it is to admit, these scenes are the most visceral and engaging in the entire film. They’re alive with creepiness, and they showcase Bigelow’s talents immensely. I guess you could say I wish this movie wasn’t the bloated, pretentious bore fest that it is, but rather an exploitation film that has the subplot of the murders as it’s main plot. It could have possibly been a much better experience, as well as containing the same themes as this incarnation of this story but with about ninety percent more subtlety. That’s the beauty of the best science fiction and horror: they can possess wonderful themes and intriguing concepts while never losing focus of their main storyline. If only Strange Days had concentrated only on the murder subplot or the main mystery plot, it could have been a much better film…and I would probably be praising its themes and ideas instead of condemning them.

But let’s actually talk about said ideas. Of course, there’s the technology run amok plot that screenwriter and director James Cameron specializes in (he co-wrote the screenplay with Jay Cocks). The script attempts to show the audience just how voyeuristic and in need of a thrill mankind is. Scenes in which Lenny sells his products to a high profile businessman and then what appears to be a family man push this home. The murder subplot tries to show just how dangerous those voyeuristic impulses can be. It’s social commentary, you see. It’s also incredibly hypocritical. The film would have you believe it’s condemning mankind’s voyeuristic curiosities and its penchant for erupting in extreme violence. Why then does the violence make up almost the entire film? For one thing, we see shots scattered throughout the movie of society in chaos. There are too many of these, but at least they kind of get the point across effectively (before it gets to the point of an audience member crying out: “Okay, I get it! It’s a violent world!”). Where the film crosses the line is how it extends the violence to ridiculous lengths. If the movie was an exploitation flick to begin with and it really only tried to be exploitation, I wouldn’t be harping on it so much. But it wants to be social commentary, so I have to evaluate it based on its aspirations. During scenes with violence, we get such wonderfully subtle moments as a wrist getting dragged across the shattered glass of a broken table, a fountain of blood exploding from a character that commits suicide, a character getting beaten with batons in slow motion (which I suppose makes sense in another bit of social commentary on the film’s part: that of the white man’s penchant for immediately assuming a black person is the perpetrator of any crime…could have been relevant in another movie while here it’s patronizing, even more so when it suggests that only a rich white guy can save a poor black person), a character getting shot to death in more bloody slow motion, an extended (and extended and extended) rape scene, etc. Is this really commentary on violence, or simply violence for violence’s sake? Given the extent of the violence, I’m willing to bet it’s just that.

While I did mention above that the murder sequences have a visceral intensity, the first rape is simply too much. We intercut the actual rape with footage of Lenny watching helplessly via his S.Q.U.I.D. We already understand what’s happening based on but a bit of visual information, yet Bigelow extends this sequence all the way up to and after the killer mounts his victim and rapes her furiously. And since we’re on this subject, let’s wonder why the director, being a woman, has so much misogynistic leering in this film. Women in this movie are pretty much all sexual objects except for one (and all that one can be is a tough as nails caricature that only shows emotion occasionally…sort of like the “women with penises” craziness of more modern movies like Resident Evil, in which women can be as tough as macho male stereotypes…though only if they show the appropriate amount of skin).

Now the murder subplot itself. It comes to a resolution that’s so predictably executed, I thought of hunting Cameron and Cocks down and subjecting them to my own form of S.Q.U.I.D. inspired torture. Basically, we have another assailant who’s way too sure of himself and who explains the entire plot for our hero (and any ridiculously stupid audience member), intending to murder him after said speech. Then, of course, when the assailant’s plan goes awry, more violence erupts before some bad visual effects spell the villain’s demise. If you think I just spoiled the film for you, think again. This subplot is that easy to predict.

Enough of the failings of the script. What of the technical aspects?

Kathryn Bigelow is a fine director, and shapes her scenes really well. There are many great shots in this film that don’t call attention to themselves, but are rather used to propel the story forward. Some sequences especially carry fantastic visceral punches. When we first see Iris being chased by the police, the sequence is incredibly tense. Give credit to Bigelow that she manages to make us immediately care for this victim when this is the first time we’re introduced to her. That’s talent right there. The use of handheld camerawork during most of the action sequences is quite good as well, giving the audience the sense that they are right there in the scene with the actors. Given that the characters are a little bland, that’s definitely a favourable point of the movie. Also, the S.Q.U.I.D. sequences are amazing. Since they’re recorded right off the cerebral cortex, they are shown to us in numerous takes seamlessly edited together to make them seem like long continuous point of view shots. The opening sequence of the robbery is amazing in its tension and visual creativity. You’ll be breathless after this sequence concludes…you’ll also be hoping for a much better movie to unfold.

On the downside, Bigelow doesn’t know how to effectively portray this futuristic world (this movie was made in 1995, when 1999 would seem like the distant future…yeah, it was a probably a bad idea to begin with). There are too many scenes showing off how “futuristic” and strange this world is that don’t feel organic. They only feel as if they are scenes designed to force the audience into accepting the world. They’re also very distracting, and the movie basically falls into the trap that most post-apocalyptic movies do: it makes the weirdness the main focus, instead of concentrating primarily on plot development, character, and/or story. The strange aspects of this world all have shots to themselves. Hardly any detail of this world is shown to the audience in the background of a shot, or in a more subtle fashion. Thus, there’s really no flow to many of the scenes. We get the idea that Bigelow started to focus too much on the production design than the characters.

Contributing to the bombast is sometimes excellent (though mostly annoying) editing by Howard Smith and James Cameron (who was not credited because he wasn’t in the editor’s union at the time, or something). This is MTV-style editing through and through. Things start of well though, with some fantastic cutting during the opening chase sequence with the cops chasing Iris. Then we get to the scene where Lenny goes to a club to seek out faith, and we start to get silly MTV quick edits that attempt to…well, I really don’t know what MTV edits are actually supposed to do. Give us seizures, maybe? They’re not intense, and they’re definitely not the best way to make visual information clear to an audience. The editing also gets annoying when it comes time to reveal certain plot revelations to the audience. Treating the audience like complete morons, the editors grace us with flashback sequences during the murderer’s speech near the end of the film to clarify certain things in case we didn’t get them. Here’s the problem…the flashbacks all seem to be of moments that don’t really reveal anything. Even if they do, it’s too small a detail to have to remember. Better to have, for example, a flashback to a character talking about paranoia play on its own rather than showing that…what, he was trying to push Lenny in the wrong direction? I kind of figured that out easily when the identity of the murderer is revealed. There are also scenes that go on way too long. For example, almost every time Lenny enters a club and sees Faith performing in a rock band, we get to see about two minutes of that performance before the actual plot is allowed to continue. It doesn’t help that Faith singing into a microphone is a pretty boring visual, and also that the song is pretty awful. That being said, there can be some creative cutting as well, such as the hidden edits in the amazing S.Q.U.I.D. point of view shots, but that’s about it.

On the upside, the cinematography by the great Matthew F. Leonetti is wonderful. Shot composition is amazing, with the widescreen framing providing lots of wonderful visual information. One thing about Bigelow and Leonetti is that their scope framing is always very creative and even fun to watch. The lighting is incredibly gritty, as if all the light is coming directly from the locations rather than lighting rigs set up behind the camera. There’s some gorgeous use of colour gels as well, with the interiors of the nightclubs Lenny frequents being almost masturbatory in their beauty. At the same time, everything is clear and identifiable within the frame. That is, to me, the most amazing aspect of the lighting. Leonetti is able to make the film look incredibly gritty, yet he’s also able to make sure that everything in the frame is visible to the eye. Bravo. And while the production design by Lilly Kilvert gets way too much unsubtle screen time, it’s still excellent and really gives the eye a workout with its incredible detail.

The performances are all pretty good. This is a great accomplishment, given that the characters are pretty bland and unforgettable. Still, Ralph Fiennes gives Lenny a life that holds one’s attention throughout. He’s riveting to watch, and even a little heartbreaking. The scene in which he begs Faith to give up her life with Philo and his eventual emotional distress is wonderfully played. Angela Bassett (a highly underused and underrated actress) proves that she can make even the blandest character come off as mildly interesting. Watch her eyes especially throughout the film. They’ll hold you and will practically dare you to focus on something else. Bassett is that good an actress, and it is a shame she hasn’t had the mainstream success of…say…the untalented and highly overrated Halle Barry (seriously, cast Bassett in Monster’s Ball in your mind and watch as the film turns from overrated into an actual masterpiece worthy of your attention). Tom Sizemore plays Tom Sizemore playing Lenny’s police officer friend Max. His character is predictable, his character arc is predictable, and his performance does very little to make us forget that. I watched Sizemore in Passenger 57 recently, and his first scene with Wesley Snipes’ character is the same performance as his performance when comforting Lenny after Iris’ murder. It’s even a little boring to watch this guy, which makes one’s mind wander. As Philo, Michael Wincott is wonderfully weird though he really isn’t given much of a chance to rise above his character. Still, he’s worth watching just to see how wild his expressions can get in almost every one of his scenes. Finally, Juliette Lewis as Faith is…well, Juliette Lewis (and that’s not a bad thing, just a predictable thing…but that practicability kind of fits into the overall film, doesn’t it?). In the supporting roles, we have Brigitte Bako as Iris who plays fear very effectively, Glenn Plummer being his entertaining self as rapper (and mere plot device) Jericho One, and Vincent D’Onofrio and William Fichtner playing the evil cops in evil and entertaining ways. Not a bad ensemble, truth be told.

The music, composed by Peter Gabriel and Graeme Revell, is really creative and wonderful. Reminding a lot of circa 1980s synthesizer scores, the music is lovely to listen to and really gets one’s blood pumping during moments of tension and action. The more emotional beats the score has are also really well handled. That’s really not too surprising, given that Gabriel composed the amazing score for The Last Temptation of Christ, and Revell is a master of intense suspense music (watch the great thriller Dead Calm, and see what I mean). The only real problem is that the music and the sound effects are all really loud in the overall mix. It’s never a problem to hear dialogue, but the sound design can really only be described as bombastic and tiring. After about twenty minutes of an almost non-stop aural assault on the audience, I was bored silly by the sound design. It gets worse from there. The final half hour of action features only one moment of silence in the sound mix, and that’s after someone gets shot really loudly (which is a big cliché, by the way). The rest is all really loud noises like guns being fired, people being punched, fireworks going off, and characters screaming at the tops of their lungs to be heard over all the noise. Just plain loud is never as aurally interesting as filmmakers seem to think it is. That phrase about peaks and valleys is a very valuable one to know and understand, one that Bigelow and company certainly do not. Sad really, because the mix could have been one for the ages…the opening P.O.V. sequence has some of the most creative sound design I’ve ever heard, though it ultimately becomes indistinguishable when the rest of the film proves to be just as loud and just as bombastic.

Strange Days is a disappointment. While there are some recommendable elements, the whole is a mish-mash of overlong scenes, hypocritical social commentary, bombastic editing for stupid people, way too much of a fixation with the production design, and a soundtrack that has the ultimate goal of completely and repeatedly turning your ear drums to sludge. Strange indeed that most audiences didn’t eat up this garbage during its theatrical run as they usually do. Maybe there’s hope that audiences are actually getting smarter than filmmakers of below average intelligence.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=1004&reviewer=355
originally posted: 07/11/06 15:17:54
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User Comments

3/13/17 morris campbell brutal but impressive 4 stars
2/25/14 PAUL SHORTT UNEASY BUT THRILLING 3 stars
6/27/11 DR Expands upon Philip K Dick's ideas and philosophies in a meaningful way. Visually stunning. 5 stars
7/24/10 bagwell5 People are starting to look at this movie in a more positive light. Unfairly ignored in '95 5 stars
12/24/09 Jeff Wilder Underrated. Bigelow's direction works well with Cameron's script and the performances. 5 stars
5/22/09 JM Synth Descends into dull generic action after a brilliant start 2 stars
9/03/08 Shaun Wallner This ones ok. 3 stars
7/01/07 fools♫gold A bit predictable, and thestoriesdon'tflow enoughformyliking. But it had enough goin for it 4 stars
1/21/07 Pauline Loved this movie - an all time favourite!! 5 stars
7/14/06 Nightjorn One of the lamest cyberpunk films ever made...and that's saying something. 1 stars
7/12/06 Ole Man Bourbon Kinda stupid. 2 stars
4/22/06 roy 10 best movies of the 90's 5 stars
5/02/04 CasperTheWeapon the rape/murder scene is one of the most grisly ive ever seen 4 stars
11/30/03 john superficial message in an action movie little action 1 stars
12/31/02 Jack Sommersby One of 1995's best films. Original and provocative. Bigelow's best film. 5 stars
8/30/02 R.W. Welch Imaginative premise but given to wretched excess and becomes almost cartoonish. 3 stars
6/26/02 Jim Amazing dystopian movie 5 stars
4/08/02 Artist Freak Subversive, confrontational, metaphorical, powerful, kicks plenty of ass too. 5 stars
3/15/02 Zargo can't believe more people haven't heard of this movie 5 stars
9/01/01 Butterbean Cool 4 stars
12/23/00 Ahmad ZAKI bin Zakaria Up there with Blade Runner and Matrix. 5 stars
5/03/00 P.Rodriguez one of the most underrated films of all time. 5 stars
1/17/00 Will suspenseful and... just great 5 stars
9/25/99 Shadowknows What a Rush!!! 5 stars
7/02/99 Aramide Alli My Favourite Film 5 stars
6/25/99 keita maxence simply the best act-thriller movie of all time. 5 stars
3/22/99 A. M. Absolute CRAP. 1 stars
2/06/99 donkey_dew Aside from the fact that I hate James Cameron, this film wasn't at all that bad. 5 stars
1/25/99 Chloe Marie Elestenogoph (clatter@hotmail.com) Doesn't live up to it's potential. 4 stars
1/12/99 Bluntman Flawed but cool 5 stars
12/14/98 Jules Very cool, timely, but a little naive in the technology dept. 4 stars
11/25/98 Fred Nothing wrong with this movie. Absolute gold!!!!!! 5 stars
11/24/98 Mr.Pink Great action, brilliant acting, terrific soundtrack, etc. etc. 5 stars
10/28/98 cyanide rush fuckin hey 5 stars
10/02/98 arachic13 Juliet can sing, boy I'll tell ya... 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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  13-Oct-1995 (R)

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