The Business Of Strangers

This tart psychological shocker, an interesting counterpoint to IN THE COMPANY OF MEN, may not pack the gut punch of Neil LaBute's blunt condemnation of corporate machismo, but writer-director Patrick Stettner's debut feature is a far more morally complex film. It's been an eventful day for middle-aged corporate VP Julie Styron (Stockard Channing), who's...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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This tart psychological shocker, an interesting counterpoint to IN THE COMPANY OF MEN, may not pack the gut punch of Neil LaBute's blunt condemnation of corporate machismo, but writer-director Patrick Stettner's debut feature is a far more morally complex film. It's been an eventful day for middle-aged corporate VP Julie Styron (Stockard Channing), who's sacrificed a lot to stay alive in the executive piranha pool. First, Julie — who's in town to give an important presentation to prospective clients — gets word that the CEO of her company is flying in to talk with her; she's so sure she's about to be fired that she asks slippery headhunter Nick Harris (Frederick Weller) to grab the next shuttle out. Then the sales presentation is an unmitigated disaster because Paula Murphy (Julia Stiles), the disaffected underling who was supposed to serve as Julie's technical assistant, showed up 45 minutes late. The account is obviously lost, and Julie promptly has Paula fired. But the meeting with the CEO comes as something of a surprise: Rather than firing Julie, he announces his retirement and promotes her to his position. That night at the hotel bar, Julie runs into Paula, whose flight home has been cancelled. Flush with bonhomie, Julie buys Paula a drink and assures her that she still has a job, even offering to put her up at the hotel. Paula is disconcertingly forward with questions about Julie's private life and her climb up the corporate ladder, and both are pretty drunk when Nick walks into the lounge. Paula immediately recognizes him as the man who once raped a college friend of hers, and by the time Nick drops by Julie's suite later that night, Paula has managed to convince her boss that it's payback time. The action takes place in a series of rooms over the course of a single night and it's impressive just how much character is revealed under such limited circumstances. Consequently, one is left with an unsettling ambivalence about the night's awful events — there are no absolute villains here, just as there are no total victims — and much of the credit is due to the performances. Channing's stunning portrayal of a woman whose drive to succeed barely masks her deep exhaustion and festering resentment helps gloss over a few of the script's more implausible moments, while Stiles, freed from teen comedies, proves she can more than hold her own in a demanding, adult role.

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  • Released: 2001
  • Rating: R
  • Review: This tart psychological shocker, an interesting counterpoint to IN THE COMPANY OF MEN, may not pack the gut punch of Neil LaBute's blunt condemnation of corporate machismo, but writer-director Patrick Stettner's debut feature is a far more morally complex… (more)

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