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December 2002                                          SITE MAP   SEARCH
The Business Of Strangers
cast: Stockard Channing, Julia Stiles, and Frederick Weller

writer and director: Patrick Stettner

84 minutes (15) 2001
widescreen 16:9
Momentum DVD Region 2 rental
Also available to rent on video

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Emma French
Many films try to be stylish and clever, far fewer succeed, but The Business Of Strangers generally hits the mark. What this elegantly written drama lacks in suspense it compensates for in its claustrophobic look and mood. With a tiny cast, the film focuses on the intellectual and emotional conflict between two women. It opens with the uber-successful, hard-nosed Julie Styron (Channing) sacking her new technical assistant Paula (Stiles) for ruining a key presentation by turning up late. When they meet by chance later in a hotel bar, the apology Channing proffers leads to a bizarre evening of revelations.
   Demonstration of the two women's bonding allows for some very lazy pacing in the middle portion of the movie, with lots of sauna, running machine and bar scenes that resemble fitness centre ads rather than a feature film. Fortunately, as the plot twists entangle, the pace also quickens.
   Stockard Channing looked 30 when she made Grease several decades ago but only looks about 40 now. An actress of unerring quality, she raises this film above the mundane with a varied, subtle, and completely convincing performance. Her expressive features are perfect for Styron's tough but tender reluctant, lonely CEO character. Channing exudes intelligence, and suits dramas that investigate human behaviour and deception, also evidenced by her role in Six Degrees Of Separation. It is part of the appeal of The West Wing that it has brought Channing, and that other talented woman-of-a-certain-age Allison Janney, into the thespian mainstream.
   Julia Stiles undoubtedly has range as the enigmatic Paula but has to grapple with some wooden dialogue. Her bratty cod-psychology does not always convince, and Stiles' rushed delivery emphasises the verbose implausibility of her set piece speeches. She was much better as the silent, watchful Ophelia in Michael Almereyda's 2001 Hamlet. Still, her disconcertingly deep-voiced, dimpled appeal is undeniable. A stereotypically sleazy headhunter provides the testosterone and a silly did he/didn't he rape her sub-plot.
   At times this movie proffers the idea that women who sacrifice family for career are tragic, at other times it valorises Channing's struggle to the top. Perhaps all the better for failing to be a message movie, it nevertheless leaves you uncertain whether you empathise with any of the characters by the end. Though the journey is better than the conclusion, this is an intimate, thought-provoking film that suits the small screen.
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