The Business of Strangers (review)

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In a bland airport hotel for stranded business travelers, two women — one with an agenda, one dangerously adrift — strike up a friendly comraderie to pass the time: Julie Styron (Stockard Channing: Isn’t She Great) is a smart, successful businesswoman; Paula Murphy (Julia Stiles: O) is a cocky, self-reliant writer with a “money job” at Styron’s company. As their evening of workouts in the gym and drinks at the bar unravels, we see that it’s Styron who’s on shaky ground and Murphy who takes advantage of that — the writer who’d said she writes nonfiction because she likes “the sloppiness of real life” maneuvers events to snag herself some good material when Nick Harris (Frederick Weller), headhunter and friend to Styron, shows up on the scene. Screenwriter/director Patrick Stettner has concocted an uncomfortably suspenseful tale — and cast it with two immensely capable and powerful actresses — of a game of power and control played between two women in a realm film only too rarely lets women roam in: the political swamp of the corporate world. And he lets slip a hard, hidden truth about women: that they can be capable of the same ugly, violent impulses as men, and that a generalized anger at the opposite sex can suddenly unrepress itself when the opportunity presents itself.

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