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MGM Studios DVD presents

The Business of Strangers (2001)

"I prefer the sloppiness of real life."- Paula (Julia Stiles)

Stars: Julia Stiles, Stockard Channing
Other Stars: Fred Weller
Director: Patrick Stettner

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for strong language and some sexuality
Run Time: 01h:24m:27s
Release Date: 2002-08-06
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-A-B D+


DVD Review

At the start of Patrick Stettner's The Business of Strangers, Paula (Stiles) and Julie (Channing) are rivals, though not in the way that you may think. Julie is a veteran of the business world and is on her way to a promotion that would make her CEO of a large company, validating, for her, the numerous sacrifices she has made. Paula is a young idealist who, at the start of the film, has been torn down by Julie in a verbal assault, due to her work ethic. As they meet again during a horrible storm that has caused each of their planes to be delayed, the pair form a bond. With perhaps a bit too much to drink, Julie and Paula devise a plan to humiliate a corporate figure with whom they both have a history. Soon though, jealousy raises its nervous, ugly head and the women find thrmselves locked in a psychological battle.

On the surface The Business of Strangers bears many resemblances to Neil Labute's marvelous In the Company of Men in the way it shows two career-driven professionals at their most callous and conniving. Unlike the Labute film, The Business of Strangers suffers from being too concerned with setting things right with a tidy resolution to the events that transpire. The beginning of the film is so wonderfully realized—in both the writing as well as the performances by Stiles and Channing—that the conclusion ultimately lowers the quality overall.

Writer/director Patrick Stettner does a terrific job in his characterization of his two protagonists, creating an atmosphere that may work just as well as a staged performance. His use of the written word is refreshing in its cynicism—both Paula and Julie are so jaded by their careers, and to some extent their lives that nearly every word is potentially dangerous and can be used against them later in the story. Stettner, whose only previous effort was a film called Flux, crafts such a brilliantly written script that even though the words spoken are barbed, the delivery and structure of the dialogue makes them seem more conversational than hurtful. Stettner also creates the sort of psychological warfare between Julie and Paula that makes it difficult to predict which is actually the more evil of the two: driven and determined Julie, who has risen to her ultimate goal and now reflects on a life spent manipulating and hurting to get what she wanted, or Paula, who uses both her looks and her innocent appearance to dupe and persuade people.

Along with the clever script, the two performances that anchor The Business of Strangers are among the best of last year. Channing, who of late has been falling into more sentimental fare (Life or Something Like Itů anyone?) does a terrific job as Julie, in a performance that rivals any of her previous work. Stiles, an actress that I have had trouble complimenting in the past, turns in perhaps the most surprising performance in the film; her portrayal of Paula creates such a driven, embittered character.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

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 One Two
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen 1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes no
Anamorphicyes no

Image Transfer Review: Presented in both a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer as well as a slightly cropped full-frame image The Business of Strangers looks fine, especially given the low budget of the film. Sharpness and detail are perfect, something commendable given the use of soft lighting by cinematographer Teodoro Maniaci, whose work helps in creating a very film-like look on the transfer. Black levels are fine, and I noticed no edge enhancement throughout. The full-frame image is very similar to the widescreen transfer though, as always, the widescreen is preferred.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: An uneventful Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is offered for The Business of Strangers and aside from one instance where a plane can be heard sweeping from the back to the front of the room, this is an uneventful mix. Dialogue is crisp, clear and easy to understand, while there is no obvious use of the left and right speakers, at times they do a nice job in recreating the musical score.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: The theatrical trailer is presented in both full-frame and 2.35:1 nonanamorphic widescreen. I found this to be interesting as I have never seen a trailer offered in both formats before. Talk about pleasing everyone....

Extras Grade: D+

Final Comments

The Business of Strangers is something of a rare commodity these days in that it offers strongly drawn female characters as well as a script that is truly insightful about human emotion; it is a terrific film that suffers only by playing it safe in the end. I enjoyed the film greatly, though the high price tag for a featureless disc steers my recommmendation toward a rental.

Kevin Clemons 2002-09-01