THE BUSINESS OF STRANGERS Image

It’s so easy to call Patrick Stettner’s searing look at women in the corporate world as “In the Company of Women,” and actually that description would be completely appropriate, as Stettner examines the rage buried within the most seemingly level-headed female executives. Case in point, one Julie Styron (Stockard Channing), a corporate climber who learns while on a business trip that she’s finally reached the pinnacle: a promotion to no less than CEO of her company. Stuck at an airport hotel, Julie celebrates in a strange way: by reconnecting and spending time with Paula Murphy (Julia Stiles), the assistant she fired earlier in the day. But what starts out as a girls’ night of fun becomes something darker as the hardened, numbed veteran and the bitter young upstart get to know each other, and when a slick businessman (Frederick Weller) comes into the picture.
The similarity to Neil LaBute’s “In the Company of Men” does rob Stettner’s film of potential shock value, but not any of its power, for he does intelligently address provocative issues about women professionals and the certain personal sacrifices specific to them. Above all, he has at his disposal two electrifying actresses, who more than deliver the goods in challenging parts. Stiles’ role and the ferocity with which she attacks it may make her turn the showiest, but Channing ultimately impresses the most with her nuanced portrayal of Julie’s complex internal stew of anguish, frustration, and regret.

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