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Archive for October 8th, 2017

I have just been to see Blade Runner 2049.  I’m pleased to report it doesn’t disappoint.  However, I don’t want to write about it, I think the less you know about the plot going in the better.  I knew nothing other than what’s in the trailer.  Instead I am going to talk about the film I am about to watch.  Strange Days.  While watching the original Blade Runner a few days ago I thought it was about time I watched Kathryn Bigelow’s take on the Tec-Noir thriller.  Having been met with mixed reviews on its original release (Roger Ebert is one of the few critics to praise it), and a poor box-office performance, the film isn’t that well know.  It has slowly found an audience on video and DVD, has recently had a shiny new Blu-ray release, but has never found the cult status of Blade Runner or The Terminator.  With themes that are sadly as relevant today as they were in the 90’s, it is a film that feels strangely modern. strange days poster

 

For those who haven’t seen it here is the obligatory spoiler free synopsis: Near future films are always flawed as they are out of date so quickly, that is the amazing thing about Strange Days, over twenty years have passed since it was made and nearly twenty since it was set but it isn’t dated. The main reason for this is that it isn’t a futuristic Sci-Fi spectacular, it is a contemporary noir thriller that uses its eve of the millennium setting as tool and not the crux of the story. It also helps that the SQUID device is a piece of technology that still does not exist but is could possibly exist in the near future. The mini disc recording devices look a little dated in an era of solid state storage, but they are a necessary MacGuffin.

kathryn-bigelow-strange-days

On the subject of the story it was written by James Cameron the ex-husband of director Kathryn Bigelow (1989-91), he also produced the movie. Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) is a former cop now a dealer in “clips” illegal virtual reality playback that taps directly into the cerebral cortex.  Lenny refuses to deal in snuff clips, known as black jacks, In a self delusional belief that he has a sense of morality.  Like all good detective stories the narrative unfolds slowly revealing many layers, and our hero, or should I say antihero Lenny, is always half a step behind the viewer.  As new years eve approaches the LAPD are on high alert, the streets are like a powder keg following the shooting of Jeriko One (Glenn Plummer), a rapper who is outspoken on police brutality. Lenny doesn’t know what he is being dragged into when Iris (Brigitte Bako), a prostitute and friend of his comes to him for help suggesting his ex, Faith (Juliette Lewis) is also in danger.

ralph fiennes strange days

Throughout the movie Lenny is helped by Mace (Angela Bassett) a chauffeur and security expert that Lenny met whilst he was still a cop. Mace provides both the spirit and the soul of the movie and is also a moral compass for the unscrupulous Lenny. Explaining her aversion to clips Mace tells Lenny “Memories were made to fade Lenny, they’re designed that way for a reason”. Mace represents two of the main recurring themes you associate with James Cameron, in herself she is a strong female character, probably the strongest character in the movie both physically and morally. Together with Lenny, she/they represent the mankind’s struggle to find a balance with technology, the same theme that is more overtly explored in the Terminator movies. Given the way that the internet has taken off with you tube, facebook and even blogs like the one you are reading the theme of computer technology as drug is strangely prophetic.

angela bassett strange days

The visuals are truly stunning, shot mainly at night with LA looking like a neon lit ghetto. This is most evident in the seedy nightclubs and the new year street scenes. Showing what the characters see while using the wire technology allows Bigelow to take the point of view photography used in the foot chase scene in Point Break to a whole new leave with long single take scenes. It is all part of the frenetic nature of the movie that keeps you on edge.  As you would expect of a film that shares its name with a seminal album, music is very important to the film.  Real bands: Season to Risk, Testament and most notably Skunk Anansie are all seen performing in the film.  The most significant songs are grungy covers PJ Harvey’s  Hardly Wait and Rid of Me performed by Juliette Lewis.  Angela Bassett’s line “Right Here Right Now” was later sampled by Fatboy Slim for his single of the same name.

juliette lewis strange days

The movie conveys a sense of despair and paranoia, Fiennes’ twitchy nervous performance is perfect for this vibe, while every leading man of the time was considered for the part, it’s hard to imagine anyone else as Lenny Nero. Fiennes manages to walk the fine line of his anti-hero character balancing the sleazy loser with the lovable rouge whose heart may just be in the right place. Made just four years after the infamous Rodney King beating and three years after the subsequent Los Angeles Riots. What we are dealing with is flawed characters living broken likes, a grim reflection of society looking for direction.  I have got this far without talking about villains and antagonists, its not that the film doesn’t have them, or that they aren’t any good.  Quite the opposite, there are plenty of characters to boo, his and loath, but they aren’t really the villains, they are desperate characters in a broken society.  Society is the villain.  At the time Kathryn Bigelow said “If you hold a mirror up to society, and you don’t like what you see, you can’t fault the mirror. It’s a mirror”. The characters of the movie represent society as whole and for the movie to work as much as the villains have to be exposed Lenny has to find redemption. His first step on this path to redemption is the leap of faith he takes in Mace and the similar show of faith from Mace in trusting a man she has no reason to trust.  While Blade Runner asks big existentialist questions, Strange Days is more concerned with more gritty and immediate questions of morality, how we live, not why!

strange days

It takes immense nerve to make a film that starts by depicting corrupt cops and a racially aggravated murder, and culminating in a black women being beaten by riot cops on an LA street just a few years after Rodney King.  It takes immense skill as a director to not only get away with it but make a profound statement from it.   The film ends with the coming of the new millennium and with it a hint of hope and optimism.  Hope and optimism that is sadly lacking, hope and optimism that we need to rediscover. 

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