Based on a creepy Ian McEwan novel, this Paul Schrader film stars Natasha Richardson and Rupert Everett as a married couple who find their marriage sliding into a morass of tedium. To reignite it, they visit Venice, where ... more »they fall under the spell of an urbane older couple, played by Christopher Walken (in one of his most chillingly insinuating roles) and Helen Mirren (who seems to be more his crippled acolyte than his wife). British reserve forces the younger couple to be polite to these strange birds, but increased exposure to them through coincidental meetings gradually pulls them into their deadly orbit. Adapted by Harold Pinter, it's a slightly arid but still goose-fleshy film in which nothing is what it seems to be and, what's worse, nothing familiar looks familiar anymore. --Marshall Fine« less
A Haunting and Deep masterpiece of cinema! MUST SEE!
Mark | East Coast | 02/14/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Comfort of Strangers will appeal to those who are perceptive, have a long attention span, and love films that require attention to detail. This film is the model for understated elegance, with a plot line that at times seems mundane but with a world of subtext that could only have been created by the combined genius of Harold Pinter, Ian McEwan, and Paul Schrader.
Rupert Everett gives an excellent performance alongside Natasha Richardson as the self-obsessed boyfriend. But Walken and Mirren are even better, putting in career defining performances as the deviant couple that pulls Everett and Richardson into their twisted web.
There seems to be some confusion over the relationship of Everett and Richardson's characters. They are a couple that is considering moving in together, but nowhere in the film does it say that they are married as several reviewers have stated. In fact, Richardson is not even sure if Everett likes her kids, and she does an excellent job evoking the angst of the single mother trying to decide what she wants out of this man. Their state of uncertainty is important to this film because it provides the vulnerability that Walken preys on.
Everett and Richardson do find comfort in their sexual connection, but it needs to be noted that this connection only peaks after they've been subjected to the cruel mind games of Walken's "Robert." They too are strangers, in a sense, to each other. Robert senses this, and cunningly picks apart their fears and weaknesses. In the end, their polite tolerance of Robert and Caroline's strange games has very negative consequences.
The dialogue of the movie can alienate the viewer sometimes. The "thighs conversation" and the "we were this gang" monologue are slightly forced. But these are minor bumps in a road that requires careful study and appreciation. The characters speak out of things from the recesses of their minds and hearts. It's not always "entertaining," but it is always meaningful and profound.
The film is also visually stunning, evoking of sense of Venice as few other films have. The use of colors and lighting make this a masterpiece of cinematic precision. While this type of shooting is more commonplace today, the high quality is really stunning when considering this movie was made in the early 90s on an independant film budget. Simply brilliant.
I highly recommend this picture. Fans of Pinter and McEwan will not be disappointed! Enjoy!"
Disturbing, intriguing, hypnotic, mood piece.
Ian Muldoon | Coffs Harbour, NSW Australia | 04/23/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I return to this film at regular intervals as I return to other films such as Woody Allen's MANHATTAN. But where Mr Allen's film is as much watchable for its witty dialogue and characterisation , THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS is watchable for quite a number of different reasons. The overall idea of the story I take it to be is of two lovers from the modern world returning to an older and different culture to try and recapture their private past. If this older culture is a metaphor for their private past then their past is a murky, fluid, labrynthine, decaying place of intrigue and mystery which is how Venice is portrayed in the film. I may be misreading the major idea of the film but to my mind the film has a serious moral side to it. Certainly, the two lovers are not innocents. The male is portrayed as selfish, vain, indulgent , and the female as having abandoned her children, albeit temporarily. They are both self-absorbed and shallow people, looking for something. They find some relief in sexual passion. But after they meet two locals, their holiday changes. Having said that, the two lovers are deliriously good to look at. Rupert Everett must be one of the most beautiful men ever to have graced the screen and, dressed in his casual Armani clothes throughout the film, and in the prime of his youth, he is a visual and sensual treat to behold. Natasha Richardson has a wholesome beauty but her hair is a golden glory . Her Armani clothes also bewitch. The two Venetian locals , Christopher Walken, and Helen Mirren, aristocratic, decadent, sexually deviant, provide an interesting double for the visitors. He in his white silk/linen Armani suit, she in her gowns. The acting by this quartet, is pitch perfect. The dialogue by Harold Pinter weird and wonderful: the film begins and ends with a monologue by Mr Walken about his character's father, a vain man who used to touch up his greying moustache with mascara. And the fans of David Lynch and his TWIN PEAKS will be delighted with the eerie music by master Angelo Badalamenti. Camerawork by Mr Spinotti and sets by Mr Quaranta are resplendently rich. Paul Schrader delivers a mis en scene, a suspense, performances that deserve repeated viewings. It may not be a masterpiece but it reveals a great deal about what film making can be in the hands of gifted artists. Compelling viewing. No flat spots. For film lovers everywhere."
Death in Venice
sathompson | Gold Coast, Qld Australia | 08/21/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is an excellent adaptation by Harold Pinter of the McEwan Novel with superb cinematography and an evocation of the eirie atmosphere as well as the incredible beauty of Venice.All four main castmembers put in great performances with Christopher Walken at his dangerous best as the sophisticated yet strangely chilling protagonist.Helen Mirren,Rupert Everett and Natasha Richardson are perfectly cast and give faultless performances.The scenes shot on the Lido are especially interesting and bring back memories of Dirk Bogart in Thomas Manns "Death in Venice",which you will find is a surprisingly appropriate reference even though the subject matter is vastly different. I also enjoyed the scenes shot late at night in which Christopher Walken mysteriously introduces an innocent Rupert Everett to some of the seedier nightclubs of Venice. Beautiful shots of the more well -known parts of Venice abound,with a beautiful soundtrack to highlight them. All this plus a spinechilling ending!A pity this is out of production .I recommend it to the studio that they put this out on DVD.It could become a cult classic"
Anyone For Venice?
El Lagarto | Sandown, NH | 02/17/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The Comfort Of Strangers is worth watching simply for the photography. Venice turns up often in film, but director Paul Schrader really gets it right. From the endless alleyways, so ominous at night, to the outdoor sewers - whoops - I mean canals - to the exquisite public buildings and lavish, dark interiors, expertly dressed down to the last detail, the sense of place is intoxicating. Much of the film finds Venice bathed in gentle afternoon sunlight, rendering it soft, opulent, alluring. Every obligatory cliché is touched, from the pigeons to the gondoliers to the gold leaf domes and the charming bridges. Anybody who is anybody arrives at his or her 500 year old crib by water taxi. Art with a capital A is so ubiquitous and so in decline that the stench of decadence and licentiousness linger in the air like perfume. That's the good news.
The bad news is, everything else. To paraphrase Churchill, never has so much talent been assembled with such lack of result. This line-up has "dream team" written all over it. Novel by Ian McEwan. Screenplay by Harold Pinter. (Memo to Harold Pinter: Harold, sometimes less is less.) Christopher Walken, Natasha Richardson, Helen Mirren, and Rupert Everett. Granted, Everett would probably be in over his head shooting a Calvin Klein commercial, but the other three are world class. Walken exudes the kind of malice required for films like this when he's picking up lunch at Arby's. Top it off with the master of unsettling music, Angelo Badalamenti. Venice is the ideal city for a tale of sexual corruption, depravity, and decay. What started well became - staggeringly boring.
Sadly the blame must be laid squarely at the feet of Schrader and Pinter. The dialogue in this movie is so appallingly listless it makes Last Year At Marienbad seem like a Marx Brothers comedy. Our lead characters don't have enough energy between them to lift a teaspoon, or chemistry enough to cause the decomposition of leaves. The malevolent sexuality of Walken and Mirren, far from being either frightening or exciting, or - in a better movie - both - is simply dumb. In fact, everything about how these characters meet and interact is both dumb and pointless. Schrader has written and directed some great pictures; in this one he seems convinced that plush interiors make an adequate substitute for plot, characters, motivation, interesting situations and point. I have seen maple syrup pour onto pancakes with more urgency."
You're on the Other Side of the Mirror, Babe
L. S. Slaughter | Chapel Hill, NC | 03/14/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This fine film suffered the fate of bad marketing by Skouras Films when it premiered in 1991, and thus, lacks exposure,and appears to be out-of-print! Nevermind that it's slow going for the average Hellplex patron seeking eyecandy; it's an exceptionally well-crafted affair from head to toe (with an incredible score by Angelo Badalamenti, visuals from ace Italian lensman Dante Spinotti, production design inspired by Ferdinando Scarfiotti, and four expert performances from its core ensemble). Shrader works from a script by Harold Pinter, which is a right-on adaptation of the decadent novel by Ian McEwan to tell a twisted story of sexual intrigue set in dear old creepy/lovely Venice, Italy. Yes, there are lovely scenes on the Lido and Grand Canal, but the picture of La Serrinissima here is more akin to, say, "Don't Look Now" than David Lean's postcard-pretty "Summertime" - a maze of canals and claustrophobic alleyways turning in on themselves in the style of its characters' psyches.What is this film really about? That's open to discussion. At heart, it's a tale of a younger couple adrift in the byways of speculation about the meaning and purpose of their own relationship, and this makes them vulnerable to the apetities of a bored and rich niddle-aged couple looking for some "beauty must be punished" type thrills. There you have it: each man kills the thing he loves, someone said.Pinter does his usual accent on dialogue with repeated lines searching for their true meaning (Everett: "This book makes no sense! I can't read this book!"). Christopher Walken is charmingly creepy in his white Armani threads and vague sexuality; Helen Mirren approaches genius with her take on a woman held captive in a palazzo to a self-invented aristocrat and her own sexual imagination ("ahhh, but if a man came, THEN something would happen (cackle, cackle)."); empathy for the younger couple, Everett and Richardson is established sufficiently, although Miranda Richardson's boyishness threw a curve into the story I'm not certain was supposed to be there. Maybe Shrader could elaborate.COMFORT is funny, sad, morose, romantic, challenging, subtle. In flashes it is classic Gothic - black as black can be. It does, however, demand several viewings over time to excavate its riches. If one still comes up with a feeling that something critical may be missing, well, that may or may not be part of its point: one never leaves Venice feeling wholly satisfied - it is always calling one back, back, back to its come-hither intrigues."