The Business of Strangers

Starring: Stockard Channing and Julia Stiles
Momentum Pictures
Certificate: 15
Available now


Corporate climber Julie Styron fires her new assistant Paula Murphy after she arrives late with materials for a crucial presentation. When the two women meet by chance in a hotel bar that evening, Julie attempts reconciliation. But she has no idea what she is letting herself in for...

Total Film called this "a tight psychodrama that really crackles". Rolling Stone described it as "a maliciously funny and keenly observant movie". The Times referred to it as "clever to the point of devious". Were they watching the same film as me, I wonder? Sure, The Business of Strangers boasts very good performances by the two leads, Stockard (The West Wing) Channing and Julia (The Bourne Identity) Stiles, but I think those reviewers were going a little bit over the top.

Channing's Julie is a real bitch to begin with, but she earns our sympathies when she later makes every effort to make amends for her rash dismissal of Paula. Stiles is suitably enigmatic as Paula, managing, as you might expect from the star of 10 Things I Hate About You, to combine a badass attitude with the possibility that she might just be a naive girl out of her depth.

Writer/director Patrick Stettner succeeded in defying my expectations. What seems at first (and in the movie's trailer, which appears on the disc) to be your average "embittered psycho seeks revenge" storyline ends up being something rather different - a more subtle battle of wills between Paula and Julie. For a while, the two women actually seem to get on well, and there is even a little sexual tension between them. However, although many of the dialogue exchanges are powerfully portrayed, some others don't sound at all natural.

The ending is a bit of a damp squib - perhaps deliberately so, as it is left to we, the audience, to judge for ourselves how we should feel about the way things turn out. However, the film has left me with some enduring and stirring images, which can be no bad thing.

Chris Clarkson