Business of Strangers [2001]

A rich character study fueled by two superb performances, The Business of Strangers turns feminism on its side with a spontaneous battle of wills. Traveling executive Julie (Stockard Channing) has just received a lofty promotion, but an airport delay leaves only her hard-edged new assistant Paula (Julia Stiles) to celebrate with. When a corporate recruiter (Frederick Weller) becomes the unwitting victim of their drunken power play, these women forge a competitive bond that veers toward volatile melodrama. But first-time director Patrick Stettner is more interested in how these strong but vulnerable women assess each other, revealing secrets, lies, and emotional wounds as they find an outlet for pent-up aggressions. Channing and Stiles are perfectly matched as savvy combatants, and while the film's ambiguity may puzzle some viewers, it's just as likely to provoke fascinating speculation about these memorable characters and their unsettling willingness to engage in a psychological duel. --Jeff Shannon

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