The Comfort of Strangers (1990) Poster

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Great Walken, Great Pinter
lawfella9 October 2004
A British couple contemplating marriage (Natasha Richardson and her young, handsome paramour, played by Rupert Everett) take a vacation in Venice, to sort things out, as the Brits say. There they meet a local bar owner named Robert, played by Christopher Walken, a lyrical, dramatic fellow always going on about incidents in his childhood, his father, his grandfather, his virility and the like. His personality contrasts sharply with that of the Everett character, who is withdrawn and tentative. The Brits are strangely drawn to Robert and to his odd, sexually frank wife, played by Helen Mirren in the sort of role she apparently was born to play. But they are also at times revolted. They are vaguely aware that the Venetian couple have an unnaturally intense interest in them; the contact also seems to stimulate them, both sexually and emotionally.

No need here to go into the truly shocking denouement, beyond to say that it is what you would expect from anything in which Pinter has a hand. As always, his dialog achieves unique power through its precision and understatement. Best line -- Mirren's "I'll tell you where you are -- on the other side of the mirror." Positively chilling, positively precise.

Fine, fine acting, especially the tragic, sinister Walken, who is I think incapable of giving a bad performance -- this is probably the best I have ever seen him. Gorgeously and lushly filmed, with every scene bathed in deep colors and haunting, orchestral music. A deeply affecting film, well worth seeing.
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Tremendous take on McEwan's novella
ametaphysicalshark9 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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Oxymoron of the Decade
canadude28 June 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Spoiler Alert Watching the beginning of "The Comfort of Strangers" I become aware of three things: the camera oozing through a grand Venetian apartment clearly lost in time, Angelo Badalamenti's haunting score teasing with classical elegance only to cut to a darker tone and Christopher Walken's voice. The voice is calm, hypnotic and (much like Badalamenti's score) carries an uneasy note - or rather a note that makes one feel uneasy. It's a voice that is only part of one of Christopher Walken's greatest performances, in a film which he, not surprisingly, carries.

I do not, however, wish to be caught suggesting that without Walken "The Comfort of Strangers" would be a bad film. It wouldn't (most likely, but that's speculation) - it's got more than Walken going for it. Natasha Richardson and Rupert Everett play a young British couple well (not that it is hard to do, I suppose, at least until) when their darker side emerges. The stimulation and prodding of this darkness from its hole and home of politeness and comfort occurs not only as a consequence of the couple's encounter with Walken, but also by his wife, played by Helen Mirren, who I love in this role.

"The Comfort of Strangers" is not a European-like art film, or subtle drama as much as it is a horror, or rather, horror plain and simple. Its story is relatively simple: a young British couple on vacation contemplate their relationship and the possibility of marriage when they encounter a Venetian resident (Walken) who seduces them with disturbing tales of his past, while terrifying them as well.

Shortly into the film, however, it turns out that Walken's encounter with Richardson and Everett's characters wasn't so chance after all. This should hardly be considered surprising since the film is directed by Paul Schrader ("Taxi Driver," "Last Temptation of Christ") and adapted by Harold Pinter ("The Go-Between," "The Servant"). Both writer and director obsess over psychology and the darker side of humanity. Well, in "The Comfort of Strangers" this obsession also reveals itself.

The dialogues in the film are classic Pinter - innocuous at first sight, matter-of-fact, meaningless on the surface, they add up to much more than they do in isolation. The story operates on subtext and nuance. It invites interpretations like many of Pinter's plays (most notably "The Caretaker), primarily social and psychological. And the film has countless - its ending may be considered sporadic, extreme, or, contrarily, pertinent and perfect.

I loved the ending and the film feeling that it works with the horror of the whole. My interpretation of "The Comfort of Strangers" puts aside psychology (I prefer to leave psychology ambiguous - darker things lurk in corners of the unknown than the explained). "The Comfort of Strangers" is, to some degree, an allegory, much like Losey's "The Servant" about two generations clashing with each other. More specifically, it's about old and new upper-class clashing. Walken is haunted by his father, a man of an older order, a patriarch with full knowledge of the value of his power, both psychological and physical, the terrorist of the family, an authoritarian. A symbol of virility. His gift to Walken's Robert is made clear through the relationship with Robert's wife - it's a violent, sexual relationship, the woman is a victim who comes to peace with her fate. It's an old-fashioned relationship, a relationship that terrifies Richardson and Everett.

They are a modern couple by modern standards - Richardson's Mary has children from a previous marriage and lives with Everett's Colin outside of wedlock. They are, to some extent, free. Robert criticizes them for this several times implicitly - he states that he respects Colin as an Englishman, but subtly berates him for living with a divorced woman. And he berates Colin not so subtly when Colin criticizes Robert's collection of his father's things.

Colin doesn't tell Mary that Robert hit him hard in the stomach. In fact, their relationship is jostled by their encounters with the strange Venetian couple, sexually energized - Mary, who initially wants Colin to propose to her, feels more powerful, free and desirous of that freedom she tastes. When Colin, shrinking (after the violent encounter with Robert), proposes to her finally, she brushes it off with a smile - she feels free and she likes it. Colin, however, is threatened by it. He doesn't fight back against Robert - he takes it and is quiet about it. He even allows Robert to call him a "poof, or how you say, a fruit?" during dinner.

The strong patriarchy of the past, manifested by Walken's Robert, isn't as strong as it appears at first. It has no future - the sickness of it is apparent to any viewer, especially as revealed by the Mirren character. It's a diseased relationship, yet it attracts Mary and Colin. Their relationship is also doomed, however - it appears to have no future, because it cannot define itself. There is no dominant figure, no person to give a direction to it (marriage?) - and when a direction presents itself, neither of the partners appears very committed to it. It's far from normal either - otherwise there would have only been one encounter with the Venetian couple. But interest and curiosity are far too strong for the encounters to stop.

So, when I watch the final moment of the film - very reminiscent of its first - I think not only of Walken's brilliance, but now of the newly-bestowed meaning to his monologue. Whenever Robert is questioned by a character in the film he offers a tale of childhood, of the past, about his father, who bestowed him with psychology, values and an understanding of the world. The understanding, of course, is impractical and must, inevitably, cause Robert a great deal of pain - every time he is forced to face the present, he has to revert to a past which he understands (and only because it made an incredibly psychological impression on him and his growth, development), but makes sense to no one else. He invokes the spirit of his dead father. And the spirit does not return the call because it is itself dead and gone - along with Robert, who is not in our world, but a world past. He is a ghost and he is truly horrifying, especially when he tries to materialize.
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The "menace" all-star team
Scoopy19 March 1999
Let's think how to put together the all-star team of menace.

We'd have Paul Shrader direct, and he'd never shoot a centered, straight-on angle. The movie would be filled with nearly empty frames, where the actors can be seen only far off to the side, and the scenes would begin with tracking shots through an alley to the characters, as if from a stalker's P.O.V. Doors and windows would open and close near our protagonists, manipulated by unseen hands, for unspoken reasons.

We'd have Harold Pinter write the screenplay, and every line would be pregnant with vague menace. The character's actions would be filled with unexplainable and unexplained malice. People would repeat with gravitas lines that don't seem important. People would tell awful stories about their youth and their excessively stern parents.

We'd locate it in Venice at night, where every corner seems to turn into a deserted and foggy dead end, every street is a waterfront, and there are as many ghosts and echoes as living people.

We'd star Christopher Walken.

Sorry, guys, it's already been done. This is a spooky, creepy movie, well presented by the all-star team. I really found only one flaw. The menace was not left unspoken and threatening. The movie ends with people doing explicit and unspeakably awful things for no reason.

It's one strange movie. Great use of Venice as the backdrop for the story. It is a masterpiece in its own Euro-noir genre. I liked it a lot, but don't expect a typical cinema experience, or a happy ending.
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richy295 September 1999
This Paul Shrader movie is a 'must see' for anyone who's enjoyed 'Don't look now' by Nicholas Roeg. Once again we're back in Venice where decadence, decay and danger seem to lurk in every ill-lit corner. Just barely hiding from our eyes, but omni-present in the atmosphere.

We see Colin and Mary, a not-so-young and not-so-happy couple that have come back to Venice to decide whether or not to continue their relationship. The only plausible question to that answer seems to be a sound NO, until they meet Robert and Helen, an older couple living in a palazzo at the Grand Canal. Robert and Helen are weird, to say the least. Their marriage being a perverted mixture of violence and lust. Robert (Christopher Walken) could be a character from a James Purdy novel: a closeted mucho macho gay man who can only satisfy his need to be physically close to another man through violence. Masochistic Helen is not at all the victim she seems to be.

But who are the real perverts here? The clearly kinky older couple or their younger 'friends', that can't seem to stop having sex after their unsettling encounters? No need to tell that there can be no happy ending to this tale.

The Comfort of Strangers is a work of art. The chilling atmosphere is tangible, the characters are very convincing, the dialogue by Harold Pinter is multi-layered and the plot is slowly moving to its inevitable conclusion without the interference of a weak-hearted writer.

It makes you think about the million different methods people use to keep their lovelives alive. The movie also is a very brutal way of saying that nothing in life comes for free. By exaggerating the price Colin and Mary have to pay, Shrader seems to make us want to think about the more ordinary prices we pay in matters of fidelity, lust and love.
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Stranger danger in the city of canals
Philby-320 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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If you liked Don't Look Now
iago-61 March 2006
Warning: 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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A Lincoln Center Film Festival and rightly so
jiminycricket28 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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quintessential chrisotpher walken
pintocholo18 July 2000
Warning: 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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Weirdest thing
Carson Trent5 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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Not the romance the package promised!
Ellen51218 February 2008
Warning: 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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Wrong Place, Wrong Time
Doctor_Bombay4 February 1999
So much is written in Hollywood about a character's ‘redemptive arc'-it is rare that anything redemptive crosses our path in a Paul Schrader movie, and we wouldn't want it any other way.

Let's talk about real life, life ala Schrader and Pinter---rarely redemptive, where a dismantled woman (Natasha Richardson) in her late twenties, divorced, burdened with child and confusion, looking ahead to 40 years of loneliness, seeks solace in one of the few options left available to her: the younger, good-looking, yet far too effeminate suitor (Rupert Everett).

Their pairing, unsettling at most every juncture, can only be upstaged by a spectacular Chris Walken performance as Robert, a predator of confusing lineage who smells blood in the water faster than OJ can smell the first tee.

It is the character Robert on whom the SNL parody `The Continental' is likely based, and Walken plays him so flawlessly that we may sometimes believe he has something but the basest on his mind, which of course, he has not.

Helen Mirren is perfect as Robert's co-dependent compadre.

Ignorance is never bliss in this day and age, and our story of a young couple indeed destined to suffer the consequences of their needless existence twists and turns tautly in their ill-timed venture to Venice.

Looking for fun? Next time, kids, try Disneyland.
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Find out what it means if it means anything
praagsigaar1 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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Boredom followed by Nonsense
rdconger6 May 2006
with a brief interlude of unaccountable horror. And that's all. A pastiche of false subtleties. Forget about it. Fleshing out this review is much like what fleshing out the screenplay must have been -- it implies an underlying motivating principle in its characters, but there is no such principle in the ideas. Bo one can tell, from the beginning or the end, that there was any coherent idea in this film.

I'm surprised, as well, that the pretense of the film went unnoticed. Since I must go on with my comment, and as I had to endure the slowly passing puzzlement of the film, I say simply that it didn't justify itself, which is, after all, what a good film aims for. This one is not a contender.
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stylish but unsettling
Michael Neumann12 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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A Movie That Should Never Have Been Made
Eyal Allweil31 August 2000
It's obvious that talent and effort went into the making of "The Comfort Of Strangers." It lovely photographing of Venice, the ominous atmosphere is well done, the acting is good, and it just seems so – well, pretty. The million-dollar question is, why? Is it supposed to be entertainment? It doesn't feel that way. And a good thing, too, because despite the tension, despite the suspense – the movie is too slow, too boring. I LIKE slow, psychological movies. But I couldn't help looking hopefully at my watch, over and over again. If you're after entertainment, watch something entertaining, watch something gratifying. No, `The Comfort of Strangers' feels like an art house movie. And despite my respect for artistic privilege, for self-expression – why make this movie? I disagree with the other reviews – this movie has nothing behind it, nothing. Is it aiming at realism? I hope not. Sure, much of the plot is conceivable. And a movie doesn't have to overtly portray its characters' motivations in order for the audience to believe that their behavior is legitimate – but that believability is a must. Much of this movie just appears ridiculous and gratuitous. Unconvincing. Things happen just because. A mix of realism and absurdity, perhaps? Let's assume so. But to what ends, what is being expressed, why? A comment on the English perhaps, or on Italians? On men, maybe? On life? On love? Don't expect anything sophisticated. Someone described this movie as confusing. It only becomes confusing if you assume, a priori, that because so much effort was put into it, it DOES has some sort of meaning, and try to understand what it is. But all it is is a mish-mash of themes whose sum, regretfully, is infinitesimal. What this movie does do, and do well, is shock you. But in a bad way. You know something terrible is going to happen, but you don't expect it to be so ridiculously unwarrantable. You assume that it will add some sort of coherence, significance, something at all, to everything that has preceded it. But exactly the opposite happens. Credibility is destroyed, and to make things worse, the movie goes on, dragging itself on and on, as if a renewed declaration of its insensibility is going to make things better, make you accept it as some sort of whole. It doesn't. You don't need to hear the policeman ask why – you are already asking a different question. Why has this movie been made?
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This is a film that people who loved BLOWUP would like.
Peter2206016 November 2002
The plot of this film without disclosing any details can be summed up with your Mother's admonition to you as a pre-teen: "Never Talk to Strangers!"

If you ever wondered, "Why Not?", see this movie for a possible answer.
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So Bad It's Good
jervistetch24 May 2008
This is one of those movies like "Mommie Dearest" that, after the first viewing, you're not sure that you could have possibly seen what you think you saw. It's so over the top that you need to shower afterward. And then, for some twisted reason, you watch it again and you start to like it. Everything about it is preposterous (though, Venice looks cool). Natasha Richardson and Rupert Everett play, perhaps, the dullest couple to ever grace the screen. It is impossible to care about, or even understand, the emotional quandary they're going through. Helen Mirren is completely insane, but nothing can prepare you for the vintage, bravura Walken performance. His monologue about his father (that he delivers more than once in a dubious Italian accent) is a zenith in the Hammy Hall of Fame. Seek out someone else that has seen it and recite that monologue to each other in a bad Italian dialect and you will seldom in your life laugh harder. Rent (or buy, as I have) quickly and brace yourself.
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francofile022 June 2005
Still trying to figure out the point of this movie. The cast, setting and music were all the best that can be had, but the dialogue was as stilted as Mamet on a bad day, there was zero chemistry between Everett and Richardson, and Walken and Mirren were stuck in silly, unfathomable roles. I don't mind talky movies with slow dénouement but this didn't even have the merit of shedding light on human nature's dark spots. It amounted to a lurid headline with no information in the report. Why do Walken's and Mirren's characters act the way they do? I didn't even care enough about Everett's and Richardson's characters' relationship to wonder why it went from lukewarm to supercharged overnight and then back to lukewarm. Their relationship reminded me of Sheltering Sky - puzzling and sad, but not worthy of much interest. So I'm back to my initial question: what was the point?
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bondibox5 January 2001
This was a beautifully filmed, perfectly acted waste of time. While the tension and danger are real, the motives and plot are empty. When it ended, I said to myself, "Huh?"

If it wasn't busy taking superflous detours, it was inexplicably shocking. It's almost as if there was a second half that got cut out. I feel like I was owed an explanation, although one could extrapolate some kind of man vs. himself kind of conflict from all of this. Hey, maybe I'm just a dumb American who has gotten used to movies that hand you a plot on a platter. I guess that's what some people loved about this movie, and what left me feeling so unsatisfied ... I will be rolling the memories around for a while trying to put together something coherent with purpose, which the movie didn't supply.
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The Discomfort Of Strangers
Chrysanthepop11 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
'The Comfort of Strangers' starts on a promising note. As the opening credits role, we are introduced to the names of a talented cast. Set in Venice, director Schrader maintains the mystery element. Venice looks beautiful but at the same time very secretive and haunting. The formidable cinematography and background score further stresses on this. Rupert Everett and Natasha Richardson act well but it is Christopher Walken and Helen Mirren who steal the show. The sexual tension is quite cleverly displayed as sex is a key element. However, it is the ending that is a big letdown.

Spoiler: It is shown that Mirren and Walken's characters were sexually obsessed with Everett's Colin. So, why did they decide to kill him? I thought both of them wanted to have some kind of ménage-a-trois with him. That would have made more sense. Also, in the beginning, Mary and Colin, sleep in separate beds. Since they were lovers, why was that the case? Perhaps they were on the trip to find each other. It's suggested that Walken's character is of an Arabian background (the interior design of his house, his speaking Arabic to the people in the bar etc).

Nonetheless, it is the ending that ruins the film. Some people compared it to Lynch's work but 'The Comfort of Strangers' is nowhere near any of Lynch's great works.
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A powerful mix
edpetrus25 December 2001
This is probably Walken's best performance ever. His character takes center stage. A complex personality leavened by the yeast of sadism.

Sexual dominance is his preferred game .. how will the unsuspecting English couple fare?

The setting is Venice, the music is moorish. The mix is powerful.
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Harold's Web
pyrocitor19 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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Let Me Tell You Something; Schrader's Comfort Of Strangers Is Discomforting
CitizenCaine30 October 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Christopher Walken is perfectly cast as the enigmatic Robert in Harold Pinter's adaptation of Ian McEwan's novel: The Comfort of Strangers. Like many of Pinter's stage plays, including The Caretaker and The Birthday Party, the script builds slowly and deliberately and is very talky. Walken and wife Helen Mirren as Caroline feign interest in tourists who are at a crossroads in their troubled relationship: Rupert Everett (Colin) and Natasha Richardson (Mary). The couple "happens" upon Walken one night; he finds a late night bar open, and proceeds to mesmerize the couple with stories of his life. At one point, Richardson asks Walken about himself, and he simply looks at her, avoids answering the question, and proceeds as before. The couple are unable to find their way back to their hotel, and Walken profusely apologizes for keeping the couple up so late that he invites them to his house for dinner when he "bumps into them" again.

Once at Walken's home, things begin to unravel as Everett and Richardson become ensnared in a wider plan. Are they naive, ignorant, or just too self-absorbed to realize what's unfolding? Walken and Richardson keep the viewer interested in the film. Mirren, although usually interesting, appears miscast here, and Everett doesn't generate enough feeling for Richardson for us to care enough about him or their relationship. Despite the Venetian locale, the film is tedious at times even though Pinter's dialog compels the viewer to watch. The film doesn't give viewers enough time to digest its ending, as it is rather abrupt. As with some of Pinter's writing, some parts are greater than the whole. Due to the last lines Walken has, one gets the idea that Pinter intended to dupe the viewer in the same manner the couple was in the film. **1/2 of 4 stars.
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A dark, gripping and unsettling Venice
inioi1 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Sometimes it happens that couples, when the relationship does not work, decide to make a trip as last resort, to see if it can be fixed or to make a decision. However, what happens on the trip becomes unexpected.

The role played by Miranda Richardson and Rupert Everett is a modern, relatively intellectual couple, but within normal range. So far so good. The turning point comes when they meet a weird and unreliable Christopher Walken, and unexpectedly they are influenced by his gloomy talks. Here, as in other Harold Pinter's scripts, lies a subliminal psychological manipulation. The reason why an adult and responsible couple is mysteriously tricked, remains unknown. But the fact is that it seems to be a release of repressed behaviors when in contact with Walken/Mirren.

They enter into a state of unconcern and greater sense of freedom. Still, they try to avoid the presence of Walken, but seems to be a higher power, and inevitably, end up being his guests.

The nightly, intriguing romantic, yet eerie atmosphere is masterfully portrayed by Dante Spinotti's cinematography. This, along The mystery and beauty of Venice will help to generate uncertainty and disturbance about their fate.

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