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Sunday, February 19, 2006 

O & U #4

Strange Days, 1995, dir: Kathryn Bigelow
Plot: It's December 1999 and Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes), a self-styled seller of fantasy, lives a largely miserable existence pining after his ex-lover Faith (Juliette Lewis). He deals in dreams: illegally allowing his clients to 'jack in' and experience emotions and memories of desire, lust, greed or as he puts it "the forbidden fruit". When Faith becomes entangled in a web of blackmail and murder, it's up to Lenny, reluctant sidekick Macey (Angela Bassett), and best friend Max (Tom Sizemore) to save the day, uncover conspiracy, and hopefully see out the new year.

Why I like it: Kathryn Bigelow has consistently made engaging and thoroughly entertaining movies her entire career (scratching K-19 and most of Blue Steel) and she continually goes without due credit. All her films explore extremities in human emotion, while underpinning and repackaging them in a more accessable fashion. In Near Dark we had a band of unhinged vampires roaming the countryside, killing at will, despite being a tenderly fierce surrogate family unto themselves; and the film itself being set against a sporadic love story. In Point Break she blatantly mocked machismo whilst channelling it into a seductively flagrant action movie. What then is she up to with Strange Days?

In short, quite a bit. The film works not only as an exposé on human corruption -racism, voyeurism- but couples this with a dystopian tale of love and violence in the closing days of the 20th Century. The murder of a hooker and the ensuing events are pure MacGuffin, James Cameron's screenplay reliant on the bigger picture and the underlying Y2K hysteria to add urgency and potency to the movie, though still unafraid to exercise style and crucially enjoyment at the right times. This is why I enjoy Bigelow so much as a director. She'll let Juliette Lewis writhe onstage for a good five minutes just because it looks good. Because it's cinematic. And because of this her movies are free of pretension: keeping things lucid but at the same time insistent.

Point in fact, Bigelow's hyper-reality doesn't form a tangible plotline until we're about an hour in, when we're subject to a brutal rape from the rapist's literal perspective. From here on in, the film is less hung up on being a parable for our own troubled times (Lenny's 'clips' only a chance to extrapolate this further) and treads more familiar, if superior, genre-bending territory. Despite a muddled, albeit magnificently frustrating, third act Strange Days remains chewable brain candy, a "skull-fuck" brushed in an unscrupulous world. It also helps that the cast is onboard, Fiennes' embodiment of a redemption-seeking low-life is particularly charming and Bassett is quite the badass. Brimming with confidence, free of the usual Hollywood qualms, Strange Days is cerebral and relevant diversion, and what's best the result is effortless. Are we impressed yet?

See if you like: Collateral, The Terminator, The Last Boy Scout
P.S Fatboy Slim's 'Right Here, Right Now' is directly sampled from this movie. The immortal words are uttered when Mace pins Lenny up against a wall toward the end of the film. Just a titbit for you.

Sounds pretty good to me. Got it to lend?

But of course. It's pretty lenghty though.

Thank you!
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