6.4/10
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54 user 27 critic

The Comfort of Strangers (1990)

R | | Drama, Thriller | April 1991 (USA)
A couple retreat to Venice to work on their relationship, but an encounter with a stranger leads them into a world of intrigue - where their darkest desires are in reach.

Director:

Paul Schrader

Writers:

Ian McEwan (novel), Harold Pinter (screenplay)

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Christopher Walken ... Robert
Rupert Everett ... Colin
Natasha Richardson ... Mary
Helen Mirren ... Caroline
Manfredi Aliquo Manfredi Aliquo ... Concierge
David Ford David Ford ... Waiter
Daniel Franco ... Waiter
Rossana Canghiari Rossana Canghiari ... Hotel Maid
Fabrizio Sergenti Castellani Fabrizio Sergenti Castellani ... Bar Manager (as Fabrizio Castellani)
Mario Cotone Mario Cotone ... Detective
Giancarlo Previati Giancarlo Previati ... First Policeman
Antonio Serrano Antonio Serrano ... Second Policeman
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Storyline

An English couple holiday in Venice to sort out their relationship. There is some friction and distance between them, and we also sense they are being watched. One evening, they lose their way looking for a restaurant, and a stranger invites them to accompany him. He plies them with wine and grotesque stories from his childhood. They leave disoriented, physically ill, and morally repelled. But, next day, when the stranger sees them in the piazza, they accept an invitation to his sumptuous flat. After this visit, the pair find the depth to face questions about each other, only to be drawn back into the mysterious and menacing fantasies of the stranger and his mate. Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

The appearance of innocence. The heat of desire... See more »

Genres:

Drama | Thriller

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for obsessive and perverse sexuality | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

USA | Italy | UK

Language:

English

Release Date:

April 1991 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Cortesie per gli ospiti See more »

Filming Locations:

Italy See more »

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Box Office

Gross USA:

$1,244,381
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Stereo

Color:

Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

In the novel the city they are in is unspecified. See more »

Quotes

Caroline: Are you in love?
Mary: Well, I... I do love him, I suppose. Not quite like when we first met. I trust him, really. He's my closest friend. But, what do you mean by in-love?
Caroline: I mean that you'd do absolutely anything for the other person, and you'd let them do absolutely anything to you. Anything...
Mary: Anything?
See more »

Connections

References Rosemary's Baby (1968) See more »

Soundtracks

CANTANDO CON LE LACRIME AGLI OCCHI
by Betty Curtis
See more »

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User Reviews

Tremendous take on McEwan's novella
9 July 2008 | by ametaphysicalsharkSee all my reviews

"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.

9/10


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