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Perfect Stranger (2007)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 8/21/2007
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/16/2007
It's not unusual for so-called "art house" films to be ambiguous. While some may call it being lazy, others look at these works as a unfinished canvas where the filmmaker has created a work which raises questions and it's up to the audience to form their own conclusions. These films are often open-ended and are meant to make the audience think. Perfect Stranger isn't supposed to be one of those movies, but it certainly fits all of those criteria.
As Perfect Stranger opens, we are introduced to Rowena Price (Halle Berry), an investigative reporter for a New York newspaper. She is very good at her job and she's celebrating her latest scoop with her co-worker Miles (Giovanni Ribisi), when she learns that her story has dropped because someone paid her source to not talk. Reeling from this news, Rowena is dealt another blow when she learns that her childhood friend, Grace (Nicki Aycox), has been found dead. Grace had approached Rowena the week before with some information about advertising magnate Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis), but Rowena hadn't followed up on it. But, Grace's death changes that.
Rowena decides to go undercover at Hill's ad agency to learn more about him. Grace had claimed that she and Hill, who is married, had met on-line and had a torrid affair. Rowena takes a job as a temp at the agency, but quickly catches Hill's eye. The way in which he immediately asks her out confirms Rowena's suspicions that the man is a lothario and a scene in which he assaults an employee certainly implies that he has impulse control issues. Did this man kill Grace? As Rowena digs deeper, with Miles help, she puts herself in a very dangerous position.
Given the talent involved -- Berry, Willis, Ribisi, and director James Foley (At Close Range, The Chamber) -- one would expect Perfect Stranger to have a certain level of quality. Unfortunately, this is one of the worst thrillers that I've seen in a while. From the outset, the story is unnecessarily dense and difficult to follow. We quickly learn that Rowena is an investigative reporter and that's pretty clear. But, wait, she writes under a man's name and here's Miles, and she's approached by Grace -- who's she supposed to be? -- and now there some guy humping Rowena's leg. The movie tries too hard too hard to be edgy and kinetic at the beginning when it needs to be working much harder at inviting the viewer into the story. Once Rowena goes to work at Hill's agency, things don't get much better. She's there to catch a murderer, but Hill suspects that she may be a mole from a rival ad agency. This mixed-up assumption turns the movie into a dark episode of Three's Company .
And then there's the twist ending. Perfect Stranger has a shock ending which totally comes out of left field. To be fair, there are some hints pointing towards it throughout the movie, but once the total explanation comes, the audience will be left thinking, "Wow! That just showed up now didn't it." The twist is certainly interesting, but it doesn't quite gel with the rest of the movie, and seriously, Dario Argento wouldn't have seen this coming. Following this reveal, the movie apparently gives up because a main character does something incredibly stupid. There's nothing like leaving a film and wondering if everyone in it was learning disabled.
It's typically at this point in a negative review where I talk about how unfortunate it is that the movie didn't pan out because it had so much potential. Note that I'm not saying that this time. The actors in Perfect Stranger all appear to be sleepwalking through their roles. Berry is relying on being pretty, Willis has gone with his smug "I'm smarter than you" face, and Ribisi is playing the edgy loner...wow, we've never seen him in that role before. The muddled story drags throughout the film and there was never any sense of suspense or intrigue. I must say that I did like seeing Halle Berry get into a fight with a computer not once, but twice. Maybe if she had suspected a computer of killing Grace, the movie would have been better. I've taught my kids to be wary of strangers, now I've got to teach them to avoid Perfect Stranger.
Perfect Stranger introduces itself on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has come to DVD in two separate releases, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. Examining the image closely, I saw no haloes or notable artifacting. The colors are fine, and the action is always visible in the darker scenes. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track is well-balanced and the dialogue is never overpowered by other sounds. Leave it to Sony to bring us impressive surround sound on a film which is a primarily dialogue-driven thriller. A party scene fills the speakers with sound, as we hear the crowd and music.
The Perfect Stranger DVD contains only one extra, "Virtual Lives: The Making of Perfect Stranger". This 12-minute featurette kicks off with a smooch-fest as everyone talks about how much they love Halle Berry. The segment then looks at Foley's directing style, the cast and characters, and the look of the film.
Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long