Kathryn Bigalow is fun to watch - I'm glad with The Hurt Locker that she has defined her own voice more distinctly, but Strange Days is a great example of what James Cameron's style looks like when it's combined with someone else. It's got Cameron written all over it: a strong female lead, inventive action sequences, the threat of technology, the redemptive power of love - everything except his increasingly first-draft dialog, actually.
The story is set in the future (2000) where memories are recorded and shared illegally - people are hooked on experiencing each other's lives, with some of less kosher experiences being traded like drugs. The film opens with a 5-6 minute point-of-view sequence (cleverly designed to look like one shot) of a robbery than ends in the death of the person recording the experience, so it provides the thrill of the hold-up with an element of snuff. It's a highly effective way to introduce the topic. The story revolves around a rape/murder that is captured as a clip, and trying to identify the killer amidst an environment of corrupt cop, a Los Angeles torn apart by riots and racism, and our hero (Ralph Fiennes) trying to move on with his life and quit his addiction to clips.
I was in the UK when I saw this in 1995 and what prevented the movie from being a blockbuster hit was the rape sequence. It's actually essential to the telling of the story but wow did audiences run away in droves. By today's standards, where we have Robocop airing on cable at 9am, it's not *that* shocking which is more of a shocking reflection of our desensitization than anything else. But nevertheless it derailed the movie back then and I remember people walking out of the theater at the time.
In the history of film, it will stand as a great example - maybe the only example - of James Cameron collaborating fully with someone else. It's clearly a production of two people and is much stronger than if either had created it individually. The subplots are more complicated than Cameron's other films and the cinematography and action are better than in many of Bigelow's movies. There are some great performances from Angela Bassett and Ralph Fiennes - and Tom Sizemore, Vincent d'Onofrio and Michael Wincott are good value as ever. I even bought the soundtrack for some high octane tunes in the car. Anyway, this is definitely one for the Netflix queue if you haven't seen it.
The other defining element of Strange Days for me is that it was the first time I saw the Millennium New Year's Eve parties depicted on film. In real life, as I was sat in an office at midnight on Dec 31, 1999 with three co-workers monitoring a computer meltdown that never happened, I reflected on how much more interesting this movie's Millennium party was than my own.