A/V Room









The Business of Strangers (15)

Review by: Simon Bell l Rating: Two

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THE second of this week's rape revenge tales doesn't accommodate so much porn as the other. It also has none of Baise-Moi's compulsion for such pictorial violence and bloodletting. Yet it still manages to be far more biting and confrontational.

The first feature from writer/director Patrick Stettner (the film was shown in competition at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival), this is a cynical psychological drama that recalls Neil Labute's deserving In the Company of Men (1997) and, at times, Barbet Schroeder's Single White Female (1992).

Tough and successful businesswoman Julie Styron and her new young upstart of an assistant Paula get holed up in an airport hotel and become locked in a subtle but manipulative battle of the sexes.

As the delicate balance of power begins to shift, enter slick Nick Harris the headhunter, fresh from a liquid lunch with his company's CEO and ready to kick back and unwind in the hotel bar. But does he too have a shady past? Corporate climber Paula (Julia Stiles - impressive) certainly thinks so. Julie (Stockard Channing - the big hair, steely suits and high heels a far cry from Grease's Betty Rizzo) is less sure.

Strangers may not be as cutting as Labute's study of executive mind games, but the same static camera generates a close, stagey feel (necessary for a small, intimate cast and setting) and cleverly concocts a foreboding sense of claustrophobia.

This is a world exclusively of airport lounges, Hilton bars and Holiday Inns: all corporate interiors and anonymous locales of transition. It's make-up is that of drab and soulless glass-fronted offices; it's theme, a constant stream of muzak from elevator speakers and lounge PAs, only occasionally broken by the imposing roar of a Boeing's engine lest we forget where we are.

Stettner keeps his debut tight and controlled; What he ends up with for his troubles is authoritative and as cool as a Scotch on the rocks


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