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The Comfort of Strangers
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The Comfort of Strangers More at IMDbPro »

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18 out of 19 people found the following review useful:

Tremendous take on McEwan's novella

Author: ametaphysicalshark from
9 July 2008

"The Comfort of Strangers" sounds superb on paper. Ian McEwan's brilliantly devastating and profoundly disturbing novella adapted by the genius that is Harold Pinter, directed by the excellent Paul Schrader, scored by Angelo Badalamenti, and starring what is essentially a dream cast absolutely perfect for the material. Yet it has a mediocre reputation at best so when I settled down for the viewing I was hopeful but had low expectations.

Pinter and Schrader handled two things poorly here- the ending, and the introduction of Christopher Walken's character, Robert. I'm not usually too concerned with faithfulness to the source material but what McEwan did with both aspects in the novella definitely did not require any sort of alteration. McEwan plays with the comfort level of the audience and characters more than Pinter does, causing the story to be even more sinister and disturbing as it develops. Pinter begins the film with a voice-over narration by Robert and we see Robert in flashes well before meets Colin and Mary and takes them to his bar. In short, we are told explicitly that Robert is a villain from the opening of the film, and Pinter also lets him take a bit too much screen time away from Colin and Mary. Walken is excellent in the role, however. The ending, while disturbing and unforgettable in the novella, is a predictable and simple conclusion on film. There's also one or two things that happened during the climactic scene that don't make sense at all within the narrative of the film and which did make sense in McEwan's book. Another questionable alteration.

Other than those faults "The Comfort of Strangers" is an absolutely tremendous and amazingly involving film with a brilliant script by Pinter which allows for more nuanced characters and a different approach than McEwan's novella featured, and superb work by Paul Schrader as director, who uses Venice brilliantly her to create mood and ambiance and certainly shoots the film very, very well, with one scene, where Robert is discussing his relationship with his father and sisters with Colin and Mary in the bar which is shot stunningly well. I won't give away Schrader's use of imagery here but it is such a well-crafted scene that the version in my head of the scene seemed terrible in comparison. The film is also shot exceptionally well by Dante Spinotti, a quality cinematographer famed for his work on films like "Heat" and "L.A. Confidential" among others.

Complimenting Schrader's work, which is probably his most impressive outside "Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters", and at times superior to that, is one of Angelo Badalamenti's most memorable and distinctive scores. I actually had Rupert Everett in mind for Colin well before I even knew this film existed and he didn't disappoint at all in the role. Natasha Richardson was out of left field for me but the casting worked spectacularly well here, and it goes without saying that Helen Mirren is superb as Robert's wife Caroline. Mirren's Canadian accent is spot-on as well.

"The Comfort of Strangers" is significantly less heady than its prose version, choosing to function as a thriller with some thematic preoccupations instead. What is surprising about this film is just how well it works as a thriller. The novella thrives on an atmosphere of tense, sinister unease but much of that is derived from Colin and Mary's relationship rather than any plot mechanics. This film is more a traditional thriller but it is tremendously tense, involving, and exciting from start to finish. A quality film, one of Schrader's best as director and some of Pinter's finest film work.


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25 out of 34 people found the following review useful:

Stranger danger in the city of canals

Author: Philby-3 from Sydney, Australia
20 June 1999

This is an interesting but ultimately fairly nasty film made from a story by Ian McEwan who some years ago wrote "The Ploughman's Lunch". an effective and pitiless story of Thatcher's Britain. This time McEwan's story is set in an unnamed city but director Paul Schrader, famous as the writer of the 1976 New York horror film "Taxi Driver", has set the "Comfort of Strangers" in Venice, to very good effect. Grandeur, decay, and corruption haunt every frame and what might seem highly implausible in Hampstead becomes almost natural on the shores of the Adriatic.

Our protagonists Colin and Mary (Rupert Everett and Natasha Richardson) are a youngish unmarried English couple who are revisiting Venice on holiday. In reality, they are trying to decide what to do about their relationship. She is divorced, with two small children. He loves her, he says, but has doubts about marriage and living together. Late at night while in search of somewhere to eat, they meet, apparently by chance, the elegant and charming Robert (Christopher Walken). He takes them to a bar and entertains them with stories from his past. Next morning he bumps into them again as they are having coffee in Pizza San Marco. He affects remorse at having left them to find their own way home the previous night (they got lost and spent the night by a canal) and invites them back to his apartment for a nap and dinner. Robert lives in a truly grand, if museum-like, apartment on the Grand Canal with his Canadian wife Caroline (Helen Mirren). By now it has become apparent that there is something a bit odd about both Robert and his wife. When (in the absence of the ladies) Colin rather tactlessly remarks on the museum-like atmosphere of the apartment Robert delivers him a sharp blow to his solar plexus. Helen confesses to having spent half an hour watching Colin and Mary sleeping and talks about the connection between pain and sexual pleasure. However, dinner passes off pleasantly enough and they return to their hotel.

Colin and Mary continue their holiday and find their interest in each other rekindled. In fact they seem to be constantly making love, or wanting to. It looks as if they will marry after all. Then, while they are passing near Robert's apartment, Caroline spots them from her balcony and invites them in. Matters soon become decidedly unpleasant.

If this is a moral tale, I'm not sure what the moral is. Watch out for twitchy foreigners wearing linen Armani suits when on holiday abroad? If it is a study in sexual decadence there's no explanation as to why the characters are the way they are (though Robert's diplomat father, he of the mascara moustache, sounds like a real bully). Well, I didn't really get the point of "Taxi Driver" either, except that it indicated the NY taxi licensing people needed to do something about the Travis Bickles in their fleet. Are we supposed to start enjoying it when nasty things start happening to our protagonists, who, while not particularly likable, do not seem to deserve their fate either?

The Venetian atmosphere was well evoked and I enjoyed all the main performances, though Christopher Walken was just a bit too twitchy - too obviously odd - at times. Rupert Everett struck just the right note of supercilious self-absorption required for Colin (is every male in English publishing an upper-class prat?) Helen Mirren as Caroline managed to convince us that an apparently gentle person can harbour some pretty violent desires. Natasha Richardson also struck the right note as the attractive, slightly fuzzy-minded but decent Mary.

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11 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

If you liked Don't Look Now

Author: iago-6 ( from NYC
1 March 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

When does a simple vacation become an erotic odyssey? That is the question the trailer for this film asks. You can just see some copywriter somewhere coming up with that one. Nevertheless, it is a question I have often asked myself. I can't tell you how many times I thought I was on a simple vacation, and wouldn't you know, it turned out to be an erotic odyssey. But more often than not, there I am, thinking I'm on an erotic odyssey, and it turns out to be just a simple vacation. You know, you really never can tell.

Okay, I'll stop ragging on the copywriting in the trailer now. How for the movie itself? It's a very good, unsettling tale of perverted sexuality and latent homoeroticism that unfolds at a leisurely pace in Venice. This movie is a sort of bookend movie to Don't Look Now, so much so that I strongly suspect that the Ian McEwan novel was at least partially inspired by the Daphne DuMaurier novel (as well as, it must be acknowledged, Death in Venice). They both include a couple with a shaky relationship in Venice, several scenes of getting lost in the winding streets, the intrusion of a mysterious and disruptive stranger, and similarly surprising endings.

Rupert Everett plays Colin, in a strained relationship with Natasha Richardson's Mary. They are on vacation in Venice, where they had vacationed two years previously, in the hopes of sorting out whether or not they want to continue with their relationship. Mary has two kids from a prior marriage that Colin does not seem particularly fond of, and he seems to regard her as insipid and whiny-which she pretty much is. When she remarks that she thought some paintings they saw were incredible, he dismissively remarks: "That's what you thought last time." Can this union be saved? Add to this a lopsided sexual tension throughout. They are constantly talking about how beautiful Colin is, and whether he is more beautiful than Mary. They discuss whether the people they see are looking at Mary or Colin. The film itself fetishizes Colin, offering long, loving shots of him nude or shirtless, which, as it turns out, serves the story. While Colin is in no way portrayed as gay, it is obvious that he can't summon up any interest in Mary, and certainly doesn't seem to care much for her kids. But there is a homoerotic tone just in the way the camera lingers over him and the way his beauty is a recurring topic of interest.

The couple get lost late one night, and run into Christopher Walken as Robert, who invites them to a bar that it turns out he owns. The bar seems to be populated entirely by men who seem pretty gay to me, although later two shots are inserted that show women. Later Robert tells two other guys who are interested in Colin that Colin is his lover. At the bar Robert gets them drunk and tells them a long and disturbing story about his imperious and dominating father. They get the creeps from him, but can't avoid seeing him again the next day, and being invited to his house, where they meet his wife Caroline, played by Helen Mirren.

Colin and Mary sleep, and wake to find that their clothes have been taken. Caroline tells them, and makes Mary repeat to Colin because it's so important, that she came into their room and watched them for a half hour while they slept. She waxes on and on about Colin's beauty. The whole thing is getting creepy fast, and gets more so when Robert suddenly punches Colin in the stomach after he indirectly insults Robert for being obsessed with his father.

It continues to get creepier and creepier, and I wouldn't dare spoil the surprising ending for you, but suffice to say that the film's point of view isn't the only one with a homoerotic obsession with Colin and his beauty.

The movie opens with a wonderful credits sequence as the camera languidly floats through Robert and Caroline's apartment to the languid strains of one of Angelo Badalamenti's most beautiful scores. I saw this movie when it came out 15 years ago, and one of the things I never forgot is this credits sequence and the wonderful score. As usual for a Paul Schrader film, the whole thing moves a bit too slowly for my taste, but at least there's a story here to tell, and the screenplay by Harold Pinter does a great job of capturing the disjointed nature of real conversation.

It's hard to tell much more of the story without talking about the ending, a problem the trailer has, which it solves by pretty much showing the entire story from beginning to end, while delivering idiotic commentary such as the aforementioned question regarding simple vacations vs. erotic odysseys. Nevertheless, it's a fascinating, disturbing film with great performances from Walken and Mirren, and if you liked Don't Look Now, you should definitely look into it.

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14 out of 19 people found the following review useful:

A Lincoln Center Film Festival and rightly so

Author: jiminycricket from Manhattan, New York
28 July 2001

This is the second Harold Pinter film I have seen during the Harold Pinter film festival being held at Lincoln Center in New York. I think his adaptations are great. Paul Schrader's direction in this movie was wonderful. The long shots and thoughtful portrayal of the surroundings added immensely to the overall beauty and cleverness of the film. You need to be able to get a sense of the place where the movie takes place. I believe Schrader captured Venice perfectly. When I traveled in Italy, the only place I ever felt uneasy was walking through Venice at night. Walken is a genius, regardless of what people say about him. He has the same stage presence as a Brando, Dean or Steiger. He embodies his character. I would recommend anyone to see this film and am encouraging my 30 yr old son who is an aspiring actor to see it and learn from the masters!

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11 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

quintessential chrisotpher walken

Author: pintocholo from Vancouver, Canada
18 July 2000

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A quintessnetial Christopher Walken movie. A bizarre tale and exploration of sado-masachistic trap to the extreme, where the struggle for control and power leads to the sadist's worst nightmare, the death of the subject, and thus, the loss of empowerment. Multi dimensional in its psychological exploration of the dark and animalistic this movie is entertaining as hell.

Christopher Walken has never been more Christopher Walken in any other movie than this.

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9 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

Weirdest thing

Author: Carson Trent from France
5 May 2006

I cannot say if it's weird in a good or bad way, because the movie carried me from suspense-weird through curious-weird and finally scabrous-weird, leaving me with a weird sensation in my stomach.

Apparently there is no other reason except insanity that drives Robert(Walken at his best) to do the things that he does. He's a psychopath.

In a way there are two angles to this:

1.The young naive American couple(brilliantly played by both Everett and Richardson) that travels to a strange place(Venice), a world that incites them to discover and finally to submit to a strange sensation of lust.

and 2.The close character study of a charismatic psychopath(Walken), whom the couple cannot resist, despite early warning that he may be dangerous.

Personally I believe the movie has no clear message, but in turn shows what lust of any kind can lead to and goes all the way in doing this. The "mascara" bit still haunts me.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

stylish but unsettling

Author: Michael Neumann from United States
12 November 2010

The best way to approach Paul Schrader's stylish but unsettling new film is without any knowledge of the (admittedly slim) plot, involving two innocents abroad and their fateful encounter in decadent Venice with a local couple whose Old World manners hide a malignant obsession. This isn't the romantic Venice of many a travel guide, but a dark and ominous maze of Byzantine alleys and dead end streets, and Schrader gives the city a wonderfully rich and gritty sense of after-hours entropy. Harold Pinter's screenplay is likewise (and typically) indirect, but the combination of an incredibly dense and evocative mood with the author's teasing lack of narrative helps to create a feeling of almost unspeakable dread. The film is certainly an acquired taste: perverse and pretentious in the old-fashioned European art house tradition (and, at times, oddly and inappropriately comic), but the effect can be disturbing to viewers caught in the right frame of mind.

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5 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

Find out what it means if it means anything

Author: praagsigaar from amsterdam
1 March 2000

this strange movie probably either grasps you totally or it doesn't do it for you at all. I loved it. Especially the small scenes that don't seem to have anything to do with the story and the little hints that you get the third or fourth time you see it. Why doesn't Colin protest when Robbert hits him in the stomach? Why does he 'want' to return? Is he in love with Robbert? Is he just a weakling giving in to a stronger personality like Robbert's? Why does Colin's girlfriend suddenly give him the cold shower when he finally gives in to her wish to commit? Are the man/woman roles of today indeed so confusing? What is this movie actually about? I've seen it a couple of times, a very well acted and one of the most confusing movies I've ever seen. Now I think it's about man/woman roles that have changed since the last decades, from when Robberts father lived, the big strong man who painted his moustache black with mascara, to nowadays when Colin accepts that his wive has children by someone before him and wants to live her own life, at least after he gave in to her wish to commit himself. The end. I won't give it away, but it could be a last desperate attempt of Robbert and his wife to keep the good old times alive as well as the result of the inner weakness of what a man like Colin has become.

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8 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

Not the romance the package promised!

Author: Ellen512 from Canada
18 February 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I bought this in a set marked as 'Triple Feature Romance'. I can't imagine the morbid mind that would consider this movie a romance! I don't think I would have liked it even if I hadn't been expecting an undemanding love story, but then I probably wouldn't have watched it if it had been in a set with an accurate label. Certainly there is sex, even love, mostly of a very odd, sick type, but the obsession that leads a couple to murder the unwitting object of their sexual fantasies goes beyond the mere quirkiness of BDSM and stalking into a truly surreal madness.

Yes, the scenery is nice, but I'm not sure Colin is quite so beautiful as to cause such fascination at first sight from a distance, though the obsessive couple are frighteningly believable. *shudder* But I'm not sure I can believe the two would be so stupid as to return to the apartment of a man they already have good reason to feel uneasy about! Going there in the first place was odd enough after their experience with him the night before.


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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Harold's Web

Author: pyrocitor from Ontario, Canada
19 May 2016

Ever wonder what it would be like to experience Paul Schrader's most famous creation, Travis Bickle, from the outside, only from the perspective of others just as unhappy and almost as weird, albeit more passably 'normal'? Look no further. Penned by the truly impressive one-two punch of Atonement's Ian McEwan (novel) and Harold Pinter (screenplay), The Comfort of Strangers is a haunting, eerie tale of lurid sexuality and obsession, the fallout of familial trauma, and the noxiously addictive nature thereof to bystanders who may not be as innocent as they seem. It's not always an easy watch (no straightforward romance involving Christopher Walken is likely to be). It's liable to leave a thoroughly unpleasant taste in the viewer's mouth, both from its sordid tale of broken humans, and the inconclusive ambiguities therein. But, like many of its thematic and spiritual filmic siblings (Don't Look Now; Last Tango in Paris), which, admittably, the film falls just short of matching up to, there's gruesome beauty to be seen therein, making it a dark but deceptively compelling watch.

Any audiences familiar with Pinter's writing will recognize how much he treats words as placeholder artifice, with the deeper truth lying behind non-sequiturs, and, especially, what lies unsaid. He excels at doing so here. For a film that, plot- wise, reads as three successive dinner conversations, dialogue is characteristically sparse, and generally more obfuscating than illuminating. Take Walken's recurring monologue: "My father was a very big man. And he wore a black moustache. When he grew older and it grew grey, he coloured it with a pencil. The kind women use. Mascara." Initially, it's used as a non-sequitur, or social stalling, but every time it's reiterated, each individual word is shown to be essentially deliberate, and tiny, nearly imperceptible character beats (monolithic but paradoxical patriarchy, homophobia, and latent, insecure violence) are unspooled, as if picking at a thread to the point of gradually unravelling a sweater.

It's a slow-burning story, and one that certain viewers not as active in inferring subtle character motivations might grow weary of. Regardless, Schrader crafts an atmosphere of supreme decadence and unease, with Dante Spinotti's cameras creeping through the smoky opulence of Venice's back alleys and canals like Nosferatu preparing to pounce on an unsuspecting victim. You almost wish Schrader had pushed things to an even more memorably expressionistic and transcendental level (as someone like Scorsese or Milos Forman might have), but Angelo Badalamenti's exceptional musical score works wonders in sounding classically elegant, yet just subtly discordant enough to make the hairs on the back of the viewer's neck stand up. There's a perennial feeling throughout of a painstakingly laid out trap preparing to be sprung, and the waiting, no matter how much Baroque sightseeing there is to be done, is increasingly agonizing.

The central quartet of cast are the binding agent which consolidate all the film's stylistic flourishes into a monstrous symphony, all perfectly in synch with the film's tone and unconventional emotional arc. Natasha Richardson and Rupert Everett are both spectacular as the young English couple travelling (or returning, as we're continually reminded) to Venice to rekindle their passion and contemplate marriage. Both deftly convey the nuances of ennui without overplaying, and, in their mutual, unexpected surge of passion, let slip essential details of far more detailed and grim characters beneath their beautifully disinterested exteriors. Still, the juiciest roles are bequeathed to Christopher Walken and Helen Mirren, and the two live up to the challenge - both are superbly charismatic and unnerving, as well as essentially human, rather than caving to the temptation to inflate their roles into Hannibal Lector human cartoons. Walken's fusion of silky, debonair, laconic charm and demented, inhuman underbelly has never been put to such good use, his every line a purr of concealed lust or threat, while Mirren, pristinely teasing ambiguous notes of either primal fear or psychotic madness beneath her tightly wound housewife exterior, manages to make an equally grating impact with less screen time. There's a theatrical quality to the airtight chemistry the four share, and even as the material fails to come to a climax that properly satisfies after the operatic buildup, they're so riveting you'll be too distracted to sweat the semantics.

A somewhat forgotten gem of skin-crawling European lust, The Comfort of Strangers may not quite stretch to the level of timeless classic, but it lingers on the viewer for days afterwards, like a sticky, shameful hangover. Whether to drink in the sumptuous Venetian scenery or the immaculate performances, Schrader and Pinter's Gothic, fatalistic romance is worth taking in on a muggy, cloudy summer night. As Richardson and Everett are sucked in by Walken and Mirren, like spiders jovially binding guests in their web, taking in The Comfort of Strangers can only end in discomfort, but the proceedings are too sickeningly infatuating to escape.


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