The images are from a three man restaurant robbery. We follow the scene from the point of view of one of the armed criminals as they break into the building through the kitchen, round up the staff and customers at gunpoint and steal the cash. However, before they can make good their escape the police arrive and chase them up onto the roof where the crook whose eyes we are seeing through fails in his attempt to leap to another roof, falls to the ground and dies on impact. Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) pulls the headset off and shudders - he hates the Wire experiences that end in death, it makes him feel off for the whole day. The device plays back minutes of actual lives, as long as it has been recorded by those wearing it, but can be watched and heard and felt by everyone who wishes to. Everyone who doesn't mind that the whole thing is illegal, not something that bothers Lenny too much - until he sees one that goes too far...
Set during the last two days of 1999, Strange Days made a common mistake in putting across the notion that the second millennium ended on the 31st of December of that year, when most reasonable people knew that it ended on the 31st of December 2000. Nevertheless, the filmmakers try to put a spin on the story that the events we see are hurtling towards an apocalypse of some kind, what with the setting of Los Angeles and anarchic violence everywhere you look, and the cops unable to stem the flow of crime. Written by producer and director in his own right James Cameron with Jay Cocks, from a story Cameron thought up about social unrest and the police beating up suspects, Strange Days had a lot on its mind, including the fancy virtual reality gadget that set the plot rolling.
A sign that this was made in the mid-nineties rather than the year it's set is that virtual reality plays a major part of this, as this was supposed to be the next big thing in entertainment, although the attempts to match the technology to this idea at the time tended to make the participants feel a bit dizzy and sick. Our sleazy hero Lenny feels a bit sick when he sees the Wire equivalent of a snuff film, only this wasn't made for wide consumption, but was intended to draw him into a tangled web of lies and murder. Lenny used to be a cop, which explains his detecting skills, but what most worries him is that his old girlfriend may be the next target of the killer. That woman is Faith (Juliette Lewis), an up and coming rock singer who now wants nothing more to do with him, despite his feelings of longing for her that he still carries.
There's another woman in Lenny's life, and she's single mother and chauffeur Mace (Angela Bassett) who wants to look after him, but senses she is being taken advantage of. What they both are getting involved with, reluctantly, is the recent killing of militant rapper Jeriko One (Glenn Plummer), which has more to it than meets the eye, and perhaps there's a conspiracy behind the death. Or perhaps not, as Strange Days has less to it than meets the eye, being a basic murder mystery (or two) dressed up as a searing expose of the state of the world, from the population losing itself in thrillseeking entertainment to corruption in the law, with neither idea being followed to any enlightening conclusion. Not only that, but the plot hinges on the point that Juliette Lewis is irresistable to men who would be willing to do anything for her: I know it's science fiction, but that's a bit of a stretch. Fiennes is a believably masochistic hero and Bassett provides righteous fire, but the film rarely backs them up with anything other than gimmicks. Music by Graeme Revell.
After a starting her career as an artist, this American director and writer moved into the world of film, making her first feature The Loveless in 1982. Five years later came the film which made her name, the modern vampire tale Near Dark, and she followed it up with equally cult-ish thrillers Blue Steel, Point Break and Strange Days. However, The Weight of Water and K-19: The Widowmaker were critical and financial failures, and she fell quiet until Iraq war drama The Hurt Locker over five years later, for which she became the first woman to win the Best Director Oscar. She then dramatised the hunt for Osama bin Laden in the controversial Zero Dark Thirty, and tackled the 1967 riots of Detroit. She was once married to fellow director James Cameron, and directed episodes of Wild Palms and Homicide: Life on the Street.