A review of  The Business of Strangers” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: R for language, nudity

Run Time: 1 hour, 24 minutes

 

 

Stockard Channing gives a striking performance as a tightly wound, self-absorbed executive in this spare drama about life choices and the shifting balance of power.

So you’ve thrown it all away on your climb to the top.  What now?  Channing is Julie Styron, an emotionally cautious businesswoman who’s unconsciously casting about for the meaning of it all.  Sensing that she’s about to be terminated from her high-powered position, Julie takes her frustrations out on a young consultant (Julia Stiles as Paula Murphy) by giving her an unceremonious sacking.  Spotting Paula in the airport hotel bar later that evening, Julie extends an olive branch in the form of a drink.  Several cocktails later the animosity segues into a tentative truce.

Wily and seemingly self-confident, Paula gets under Julie’s skin with taunts, challenges and subtle flirtation.  As the evening reaches an alcohol-saturated pitch, the lovely ladies encounter Julie’s professional acquaintance, corporate headhunter Nick Harris (Frederick Weller).  Paula confesses to having previously met Nick under far less pleasant circumstances, a pivotal declaration that wreaks havoc in the night.

Smart, subtle, and deliciously vindictive, this is taut theater with a current of nerve-racking tension.  What it means to be a powerful woman in a man’s world.  How it feels to watch your life disappear while you claw your way up to an undefined pinnacle.  And the dark underbelly of a guarded female friendship. 

Channing is all surface polish – giving way when necessary but not to be taken for a fool.  Stiles (not a favorite of mine) gives a petulant, mean-spirited performance that is nearly convincing. At eighty-four sparse minutes, this is a dense little gem of a film.