Reviewer's Rating 4 out of 5   User Rating 3 out of 5
The Business of Strangers (2002)

Stockard Channing may be best remembered as Rizzo, the most implausible teen ever in the movie version of "Grease", but the last decade has seen her emerge as one of America's most distinguished actresses. First came her stage and screen triumph in "Six Degrees of Separation", followed by her recurring role as the President's wife in The West Wing.

Now she's back in "The Business of Strangers" as a high-flying businesswoman forced to question the sacrifices she's made for her career.

Uncertain whether she's about to be sacked or promoted, corporate climber Julie Styron (Channing) takes out her frustration on her young assistant, Paula Murphy (Stiles).

Stranded for the night in an airport hotel, Julie buys Paula a conciliatory drink - the first of many. Soon they are swapping confidences, sharing grievances, and joining forces to give slimy headhunter Nick Harris (Weller) a taste of his own medicine.

Writer-director Stettner keeps us guessing about the true nature of Nick (who may be a rapist) and Paula (who may be both lesbian and unhinged).

In contrast, we know almost everything about Julie, whose crisis of confidence and envy of her volatile junior leads to a long night of reflection and recklessness shaped by subtle shifts in the balance of power.

The inspired pairing of Channing and Stiles creates real dramatic fireworks, which are only diffused by the ambiguous conclusion.

But thanks to an insightful script, Teodoro Maniaci's sleek cinematography, and some acerbic one-liners reminiscent of Neil LaBute - who penned the thematically similar "In the Company of Men" - "Strangers" does the business.

End Credits

Director: Patrick Stettner

Writer: Patrick Stettner

Stars: Stockard Channing, Julia Stiles, Fred Weller, Mary Testa, Jack Hallett, Marcus Giamatti, Buddy Fitzpatrick

Genre: Drama

Length: 83 minutes

Cinema: 3 May 2002

Country: USA

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