Never mind the recession, business seems to be booming in the unctuous corporate world of The Business of Strangers. This sharp-minded and crafty estrogen-driven character study about power plays and complex mind games is the feature debut from writer-director Patrick Stettner. The film counters its message of sisterhood with one of the psychological scheming by ambitious women. It's as irresistibly evocative as the stirring misogyny behind Neil LaBute's penetrating In the Company of Men, as Stettner cleverly stages his confrontational chess game in the confining, claustrophobic atmosphere of a hotel lounge where deception is disguised as wit. The Business of Strangers is a fascinating and sardonic look at skirt-wearing corporate creatures, and their ability to be as equally and ridiculously ruthless as their opportunistic male counterparts.

Stockard Channing shines in an Oscar-worthy performance as Julie Styron, a middle-aged corporate executive slated to meet the bigwig of her company at an airport hotel bar. Julie fears the worst because the CEO is flying in to hear her presentation and thoughts of her termination dance in her head constantly. As if she doesn't have enough to worry about in terms of her own uncertain future, Julie fusses over the fact that her desirable and curvy youngish assistant Paula (Julia Stiles, Save the Last Dance, O) is late for the important meeting and is apparently unprepared. Julie abruptly dismisses the twentysomething woman when she finally shows up. Upon Paula's firing, Julie makes arrangements for the terminated young assistant to seek other avenues of employment through a shady corporate headhunter named Nick (Frederick Weller). Meanwhile, it turns out Julie is hit with sudden fortune when it's revealed that she is being made the big cheese of the company, therefore putting to rest her earlier paranoia. Ironically, Julie and Paula bond after a hectic evening of boozing, which culminates in the revelation the Nick is a rapist and all-around creep. The drunken duo then arrange for the lowlife to finally get his comeuppance.

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