James Cameron's Blade Runner: "Strange Days" (1995) Movie Review

Updated on January 29, 2019
Ralph Fiennes is Lenny Nero
Ralph Fiennes is Lenny Nero
Cameron & Bigelow during filming
Cameron & Bigelow during filming

James Cameron can do no wrong. The impression is effectively that everything the man touches turns to gold. With films like The Terminator (1984), Aliens (1986), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), Titanic (1997) and Avatar (2009) under his belt (to name a few), that is pretty understandable. These films revolutionized cinema in their own way and set the box office ablaze upon release. However, one project is completely overlooked in Cameron's impressive filmography. That film is Strange Days (1995), which he wrote and produced. The directorial duties were assumed by none other than his ex-wife and the woman behind Point Break (1991), Kathryn Bigelow. Featuring a witty script, an intriguing premise, a superb cast and an overall wonderful atmosphere reminiscent of Blade Runner (1982), this film has a lot to offer and I consider it among the very best of the sci-fi genre. Despire it's obvious qualities, the film bombed upon release, only grossing $8,000,000 out of a $42,000,000 budget. Critical reaction was mixed but the movie acquired a small cult following since its theatrical run. Nonetheless, Strange Days deserves much more attention and is worth your time. Let's take a closer look at this gem! Warning: spoilers ahead!

The theatrical poster
The theatrical poster

I can get you what you want, I can. I can get you anything, you just have to talk to me, you have to trust me. You can trust me, 'cause I'm your priest, I'm your shrink... I am your main connection to the switchboard of the soul. I'm the magic man... Santa Claus of the subconscious. You say it, you think it, you can have it.

With these words, Ralph Fiennes' character pretty much summarizes the intriguing premise behind the film: former policeman Lenny Nero (Fiennes) has moved into a more lucrative trade: the illegal sale of virtual reality-like recordings that allow users to experience the emotions and past experiences of others. While the bootlegs typically contain tawdry incidents, Nero is shocked when he receives one showing a murder. He enlists a friend, bodyguard Mace (Angela Bassett), to help find the killer -- and the two soon stumble upon a vast conspiracy involving the police force Nero once worked for.

The plot is quite complex and requires your undivided attention. I actually had to watch the film twice to fully understand it's twists and turns. This acts as both a drawback and a strength of the film ; it might turn off some viewers (it does get pretty confusing) but like other masterpieces of the genre such as Total Recall (1990) and Minority Report (2002), the film is a joy to revisit due to its rich story and compelling characters. Despite its 145 minutes running time, it is tightly paced and never lets go. Strange Days is not your usual big budget Hollywood extravaganza but instead plays off as a powerful visceral experience. It's dark, violent and surprisingly poignant at times.

The SQUID device ; have you ever wire-tripped ?
The SQUID device ; have you ever wire-tripped ?
Cameron's work on True Lies prevented him from directing the film
Cameron's work on True Lies prevented him from directing the film

Despite the fact that he did not direct Strange Days, the film remains at its core a James Cameron movie. He reportedly came up with the film's premise way back in 1986, eventually delivering a finished screenplay in 1993 with the help of screenwriter Jay Cocks. The finished project also features plenty of Cameron's trademarks ; spectacular special effects, a strong heroine, an atypical love story and an overall sense of grandeur. For a while, Cameron was supposedly considering directing the film but was made unavailable due to his work on True Lies (1994), starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not surprisingly, he chose his talented ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow to direct this very personal project of his while he occupied the producer's chair. Bigelow felt inspired by the chaos created during the 1992 L.A. Riots and the Rodney King trial. Therefore, the film deals with racism, anarchy, rape, voyeurism and abuse of power. These are heavy themes that rarely translate in box office gold. The film is very intense and plays with your emotions, constantly putting characters we care about in harm's way while we never know what is going to happen, doing so in a very believable fashion. I remember feeling genuinely uneasy when Angela Bassett's character gets beaten up by the police near the end. Few movies can actually generate this kind of tension as a lot of the action is usually quite predictable.

The 1992 L.A. Riots inspired Bigelow to add the racial clash elements in the finished project
The 1992 L.A. Riots inspired Bigelow to add the racial clash elements in the finished project
Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982)
Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982)

Set during the last day of 1999 in L.A., the society depicted in Strange Days is far from friendly and seems to be on the verge of apocalypse. Crime is everywhere and the police is corrupted. Gangs, drug dealers and prostitutes are ruling the streets. Here the end of millennium celebrations seem to be leading towards the end of the world, as the masses indulge themselves in an orgy of violence and anarchy. The overall feeling is one of dread and despair. There is a bit of humor here and there (Nero's ties are kind of a running gag) but the film remains a dark affair until the very end. Cameron intended to create a film noir and that's exactly what he did. As such, it is similar to Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982), which also features a troubled and lonely protagonist, a bleak version of the future, a misused new technology and an intriguing police investigation under it all. Of course, Strange Days never reaches the emotional or technical level of Scott's film but it is probably the closest thing you can find and remains no doubt the most effective sci-fi noir film of the 90's. Both films were unsuccessful upon release but Blade Runner acquired a well-deserved cult status and is widely regarded as one of the most influential films of all-time, casting a huge shadow on other movies, including Strange Days.

Angela Bassett is Mace Mason
Angela Bassett is Mace Mason
Mace & Lenny's relationship is a highlight of the film
Mace & Lenny's relationship is a highlight of the film

Despite its thick plot and multiple layers, Strange Days is a character driven film. As such, the cast is all around excellent, featuring Ralph Fiennes as our protagonist while Angela Bassett, Juliette Lewis and Tom Sizemore fill the supporting roles. The amount of talent assembled here is impressive to say the least and its shows. Fiennes' Lenny Nero is a loser, an ex-cop living in the moment, selling cheap thrills and helplessly in love with a woman who does not love him (Lewis' Faith). At first, a character like Nero seems quite unsympathetic and is far from your usual hero (Fiennes is also not your usual big budget film star either). However, he successfully portrays the character's evolution and utlimate redemption. We end up rooting for him despite his shortcomings due to Fiennes' powerful performance. Nero feels like a real man and is far from indestructible, unlike what you can see too often in Hollywood. The threats he faces seems real and it is frankly quite refreshing. My favorite character in the film is Mace Mason, the kick-ass limousine driver portrayed by Angela Bassett and who seems to be Nero's only friend. Bassett is Instantly likeable here. She is the definition of cool, beating the crap out of bad guys while looking incredibly sexy throughout the movie. We also get to learn that she is in love with Nero. Their relationship is a complex one and is a highlight of the the film ; the ending is extremely satisfying as they at last let their friendship evolve into something more. Strange Days is also surprising as it is one of the few big budget Hollywood films that features an interracial love story, even today. Bassett is a very gifted actress who sadly seems to be underrated in the industry. I would definitely like to see more of her! Juliette Lewis portrays Faith, en ex-prostitute who was saved from the streets by Nero but ultimately left him for a music producer in order to have a successful singing career. Lewis is outstanding here, especially during the musical numbers, during which she herself sang. I was totally surprised by the twist ending involving her character and she remains in my mind one of the best femme fatales the genre has ever witnessed.

Tom Sizemore & Juliette Lewis as Max Peltier & Faith Justin
Tom Sizemore & Juliette Lewis as Max Peltier & Faith Justin

Fall in the Light by Graeme Revell & Lori Carson

The film's oppressive and fantastic atmosphere benefits greatly from it's soundtrack. The musical score was composed by Graeme Revell. While the music he created fits the scenes well, it doesn't stand on its own as particularly groundbreaking or as evocative as Vangelis' score to Blade Runner, which can be considered as a masterpiece on its own. However, Revell created a superb track which apears near the end and adds a lot to the final scene's emotional resonance. The song in question is known as Fall in the Light and features Lori Carson on vocals (you can listen to it using the link on the right). Numerous tracks are featured throughout the movie, including the two PJ Harvey covers sung by Juliette Lewis (Hardly Wait and Rid of Me). Plenty of hard rock songs appear to accentuate the chaotic end-of-millennium setting, most notably Skunk Anansie's Sellling Jesus (the band's lead singer also appears during the final party sequence). An album containing highlights from the movie's soundtrack was released and is a must own for fans ; it will immediately suck you back in the world of the film. My favorite piece of music remains While the Earth Sleeps, a groovy world-techno track by Deep Forest & Peter Gabriel (you can listen to it below) which is played during the end credits. It's a perfect piece to accompany the happy ending and it automatically lifts your spirits!

Last Word

Despite Strange Days' unsuccessful run at the box office, none of the cast and crew (except one) seemed to suffer major blows at their career. James Cameron especially went on to direct two of the most successful films of all time with 1997's Titanic and 2009's Avatar, while Fiennes, Bassett and Lewis all kept working steadily in high-profile projects in the following years. The film's apparent failure sadly rested on Kathryn Bigelow's shoulders despite the fact that she became the first woman to win Best Director at the 22nd Saturn Awards for her work on the film. She wouldn't direct another project until 2000 and receive the acclaim she deserved until 2008's The Hurt Locker. Strange Days is a truly unique film and ranks high in my mind amongst sci-fi's best offerings. It packs quite an emotional punch and never fails to entertain, while it's message is still as powerful and universal today as it was in 1995. Don't miss it!

The official trailer

Polling time !

What do you think of "Strange Days" ?

See results


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image

      Sam j 

      3 years ago

      Great flick and great article!

      However, besides the film noir lighting I don't think the movie's anything like Blade Runner. It's more like (the inferior) "Virtuosity" which was released the same year. "Brainstorm" with Christopher Walken you might want to check out too if you haven't, it's like the prequel to Strange Days!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, reelrundown.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)