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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Business of Strangers
The Business of Strangers
MGM // R // August 5, 2002
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted July 30, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:


"The Business of Strangers" is an interesting character study that occasionally turns far darker at times. It stars Stockard Channing, who takes on this role as if she's lived the character's life, as Julie Styron, a travelling sales rep for a software company. She's dismissive, short-tempered and mean-spirited. Yet, she isn't a screamer - if you screw up, you're simply fired - she rolls down her window and drives off. Paula (Julia Stiles) finds this out early in the picture, as she ends up late to Julie's meeting, where she was supposed to work the A/V.

The two women meet once again at the hotel bar while they both wait for their flights to whereever. Julie drops her usual wall and reveals - without speaking - that the front may be something she feels necessary to keep her place in the company. She apologizes to Paula over drinks, to which Paula accepts, but states that it really doesn't matter anyway: it's just a "money job" to her. What she'd really rather do is write. "I like the sloppiness of real life," she says casually.

The two eventually get a hotel room and start bonding, if one starts sensing that there's underlying thoughts going on on the part of the older and younger women. Stiles plays this wonderfully, really subtly attempting to try and manipulate control from the older woman. She's far more ambitious and far more intelligent than she seems at first glance. Eventually, Nick Harris (Frederick Weller), a headhunter, enters the picture. Julie first called on him when she feared her job was on the line early in the picture, but now that she's found that she's actually getting a promotion, she doesn't need him anymore. Midway through, the two find that he's still stuck in the hotel waiting for a flight out. When Paula meets him, she's horrified - she reveals to Julie that Nick is the man who raped her best friend in college years ago. When Nick knocks on the door of their room, the two women decide to get revenge.

I liked a lot of things about "Business of Strangers". The obviously low budget actually works in the film's favor, adding a considerably more realistic and convincing feel to the proceedings. Director Patrick Stettner also has a good eye for composition, nicely staying back in several scenes to capture the body language that might be saying what the dialogue isn't. There's also some additional interesting visuals throughout, even under the credits. As previously mentioned, I really liked the performances from Channing and Stiles, both of whom inhabit their complex characters superbly and also nicely play the tension and competition underneath their newfound friendship.

Many have compared this film with Neil Labute's "In The Company Of Men", but it lacks the rawness and impact that that picture had. Still, it's a very strong debut from director Stettner - while it does start to fall apart in the last third or so (and although the ending is predictable, the film remains involving), the overall impression is good and the two lead characters are very well-written.


The DVD


VIDEO: About one month ago, I reviewed the Alliance edition of "Business of Strangers". The Alliance edition is a Canadian-exclusive edition that offers a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. While that presentation was not great, it was still at least average in appearance. Although I no longer have the Alliance edition to do a side-by-side comparison, I still found the MGM edition to provide noticable, mild improvements over the Canadian release.

MGM's edition, also showing the film in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen (with a pan & scan edition also included) offers better overall picture quality in nearly every regard. While not flawless either, it's a better looking offering. The MGM presentation offers stronger sharpness and detail - while the differences are not major, the MGM edition looks noticably crisper and more consistently well-defined.

Yet, as I mentioned, the MGM presentation has its own share of faults, if less noticable than the Alliance's problems. Slight edge enhancement is spotted once again here, but I really didn't find it that highly distracting. A couple of tiny traces of pixelation were also visible, but very briefly. Some light specks were also noticed on the print used, but these were pretty rarely seen.

Another area where the MGM edition provided a more pleasant appearance were the colors. Although "Business of Strangers" doesn't provide a very rich color palette, the subdued colors seemed a touch bolder and crisper on this release. Black level seemed stronger and flesh tones also looked slightly more accurate and natural here, as well. A very nice transfer.


SOUND: The Alliance edition of "Business of Strangers" presented the film only in 2.0. Given the fact that the film is completely dialogue-driven, I was fairly convinced that the film may have actually been only presented as such. However, the Internet Movie Database listed the film's soundtrack as 5.1 and thankfully, the MGM release offers the full 5.1 soundtrack.

Although, as I said before, the film is a dialogue-driven piece, the 5.1 soundtrack is really a noticable improvement over the Alliance disc's 2.0 track. That release had dialogue that came across as slightly muffled and occasionally difficult to hear. The MGM release's 5.1 soundtrack offers easy-to-understand dialogue that remains crisp and clear throughout.

MENUS: Basic, non-animated menus.

EXTRAS: The MGM release only has a trailer for "Business of Strangers", which is presented in the wrong aspect ratio (2.35:1 vs. the film's correct 1.85:1) and looks odd as a result. The Alliance release of "Business" included trailers for Stiles' "Hamlet", "Down To You" and "State and Main".


Final Thoughts: Although it started to fall apart somewhat in the last bit, I still thought "Business of Strangers" was a well-written, strongly acted piece that had great characters and some superb dialogue. MGM's DVD release provides better audio/video quality than the Canadian-only Alliance edition, but neither release provides anything much in the way of supplements. Given the rather high $26.98 retail price for the MGM edition, I can't recommend it for a purchase, but the film is definitely worth seeing as a rental.

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