Directed by Patrick Stettner, starring Stockard Channing, Julia Stiles and Frederick Weller.
Set almost entirely in a dull airport hotel, 'The Business of Strangers' partners one of Hollywood's most under-rated older actresses with arguably one of its most over-rated younger ones. And while this peculiar little film limits itself with only three characters on display – making it difficult to retain audience interest – it's compelling solely due to the presence of Stockard Channing.
Channing plays Julie Styron, an ambitious, hard-working and highly successful corporate climber. All work and no play have, however, made Julie a very dull bird, and any attempts at carving out a life of personal happiness have been jettisoned in favour of reaching the top. Styron's path merges with that of young company underling Paula Murphy (Stiles) when the latter is hired as her technical assistant. The path starts off far from smooth, however, when Murphy fails to turn up on time for an important presentation after her flight is delayed. Instantly fired by the no-nonsense boss, the pair separate with Styron fearing she's for the chop herself with the CEO flying in to meet her personally.
Her fears turn out to be unfounded, and the meeting ends with Styron installed as the new head honcho. Relaxing in the bar to take stock of her promotion, she soon encounters the assistant she fired only hours earlier. Buoyed by her new status and somewhat guilty at her previous hastiness, Styron re-appoints the youngster and initiates a evening of socialising which will teach her more about her herself, and people in general, than a thousand ball-breaking business briefs.
It's at this point that 'The Business Of Strangers' attempts to veer off into taut psychological drama territory with predictable results. The scenario is criminally flimsy, and more than once you find yourself thinking 'Fincher, Fincher, where art thou Fincher', because in the hands of the master of claustrophobia that the director of 'Se7en', 'The Game' and 'Fight Club' so palpably is, you suspect this would have been infinitely more riveting.
Admittedly, first-time director Patrick Stettner anchors the piece solidly, but the legacy of his contribution remains his ability to convince Stockard Channing to play the central role. The star of 'Grease' and 'Six Degrees Of Separation' is nothing less than riveting, and elevates what is ostensibly a bland role above the banal with a measured performance of grit, chutzpah and, crucially, vulnerability. Stiles, who must be the moodiest looking actress in Hollywood, lacks the gravitas to screen spar with Channing, but does her best with a character that often comes across as under-developed and somewhat out of context.
'The Business Of Strangers' is undoubtedly an anti-male flick, and although it plays casual lip-service to the fact that both sexes dip in and out of the dark side, it's the fairer sex that emerges unscathed. That can't be said for us blokes, however, and apparently each and every one of us are would-be rapists.
Ultimately, this is worthwhile purely for Channing, but the feeling prevails that it would have left a bigger impression if it had been a little nastier. Stettner would have been better advised to pile on the blackness and leave us shattered by our encounter with some seriously ghastly gals.