Strange Days, like most other thrillers in the cyberpunk genre, depicts a dystopian future. The year is 1999 going on to 2000. Crime is rampant, and the city of LA has turned into a police state. In this universe, Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) is a fast-talking ex-cop salesman who peddles in people's memories. These memories are recorded and played by a device called the Wire, which is available only on the black market. It offers a virtual reality, one that is based on other people's experiences and emotions.
The Wire is an interesting device. Contrary to traditional ideas of "jacking in" to a virtual reality, there's no implant required---anyone can use it by placing the device on their heads. However, in this movie, where Nero spends a lot of time peddling the virtues of this device using phrases like "Santa Claus of the Subconscious" (which the ads for this movie have drilled into my head), the technological aspect isn't explored very much. Most of the time is spent on the plots which involve Lenny possessing a memory clip that two police officers are desperate to obtain, and chasing after his old love Faith (Juliette Lewis), who is a singer for a punk rock/noisecore band.
How this is done is what makes watching this movie on the big screen worthwhile for the most part. Director Kathryn Bigelow uses in your face point-of-view camera shots to translate the virtual reality that the users of the Wire are experiencing to the audience. Interestingly enough, I found the virtually violent scenes lacking urgency and shock value whereas I thought the "simpler" experiences (such as Nero and Faith rollerblading and his crippled friend running on the beach with the waves splashing) more effective. In fact the violence from the point-of-view of the person committing it gets really boring after a while, and Bigelow's ideas of transmitting the emotions of the attacker to the victim doesn't come across well.
The other thing that makes this movie worthwhile is Angela Bassett's presence. Here, she plays a Limo driver Mace, who doesn't approve of Nero's actions. It is she that manages to envoke empathy from the audience by her actions, all the way to the end. If Bigelow's theme is to suggest that there's hope even in the darkest despair, it is the character of Mace that manages to get this across.
In the end, Strange Days isn't commentary about the future, but the present. The current state of police oppression (LAPD) in this country are epitomised well: the killing of a popular black rapper, and the beating up of Mace. The plot involving the killing of the rapper is similar to the Rodney King beating and I don't think the movie helps LAPD's reputation much. Generally, I think the importance of recording devices when it comes to confrontation with the law is the best lesson one can take home from this movie. The music is quite decent, but unlike the technology in the movie and like the plot itself, it is very rooted in the present.