Reviewed by: Bonnie Lass
Psychological Thriller, Drama, Crime
1 hr. 49 min.
Year of Release:
April 13, 2007 (wide)
“How far would you go to keep a secret?”
How much do we ever really know about the person next to us?
One of the most disturbing developments in (at least American) society today is a desire for intimate anonymity. We don’t know our neighbors, but those we “chat” with on our computers are privy to the deepest desires and the darkest fantasies that we would never tell our friends and family. A society like this engenders deceit, selfishness and voyeurism. And, like the movie, keeps the person next to you a “Perfect Stranger.”
Beginning with a retina scan, “Perfect Stranger” mixes a good, simple who-done-it with technology. “Ro” (Rowena—Halle Barry) an undercover New York City Post reporter gets to break open a scandalous story, only to have it taken away just as she begins to “celebrate” its release (by getting “fantastically, exceedingly drunk” on “copious amounts of drinks”). Predictably, she quits her job, keeping the huge chip for her shoulders.
When Grace (Nicki Aycox), a woman that she grew up with ends up in the city morgue, Ro’s takes on the “job” of solving Grace’s murder. It begins with a simple byline; married man gets rid of girlfriend, permanently. Shortly before she died, Grace told Ro of an affair she had had with a wealthy, successful, married advertising executive: Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis). A woman scorned, she had wanted to make him pay: “He has no idea what I can do to him.” Using her “skills” as an undercover reporter, Ro goes after Hill with the help of Miles (Giovanni Ribisi), a former New York Post co-worker, who seems to have ulterior motives for helping Ro. He gets her a job at Hill’s company through a temp agency, working in data entry. “Hey, wear something sexy,” Miles counsels Ro about her first day, “You need to bait the hook.”
Behind this catch-before-you-are-caught story, there is a disjointed series of moments from Rowena’s past, which break apart the mesmerizing quality of the current drama surrounding Grace’s murder to lay the absorbing puzzle of who-done-it and why.
The intensity in Giovanni Ribisi’s acting is attention grabbing and compelling. His portrayal of the perverted yet controlled persona of Miles was perfect. Halle Barry and Bruce Willis also carried their characters very well. Bruce Willis wasn’t given much: wealthy, philandering, business man, but he brought a candor and strength to the role that this movie needed. While Halle Barry slips in between the personas that her character plays deftly, her body was cast a larger role than she, and it spoke loudly. We watch a bare-backed (from the waist up) Ro pick through and put on pretty panties and lift the thigh high slit of her dress to spray the inside of her thighs in preparation for a date. The effect of her labors: when Miles sees her come out, he says, “Can I just say WOW!” At another point Hill mouths that same “Wow” after seeing Ro for the first time in his office. Whether in cosmopolitan chic at work, Victoria Secret lounge wear at home or Vogue sexy as “bait,” Ro’s attire draws enough attention to Halle Barry’s supermodel body that it virtually becomes the set design for each scene.
“Perfect Stranger” is a disturbing movie. “Psycho” was also a disturbing movie, and like Hitchcock, Todd Komarnicki and James Foley fashioned a disquieting web in the telling of this intricate tale. Unlike Hitchcock, Komarnicki and Foley’s audience must endure the most base of behaviors to finish this journey. We listen to Ro giggle as she reads aloud the erotic IM “chat” that she’s having. We watch Ro and a man she has brought home ardently kiss, fondle and grind (the actors remained clothed). One scene has both pornography and bondage, and while clearly portrayed as abnormal and deviant sexuality, it was also graphic and given minimal (but not brief) screen time. Also, the camera panned down the nude leathery corpse of Grace, when Ro goes to identify her body. The pervasive sexuality was much more “acceptable.” As “bait,” Ro always shows cleavage above a sometimes restrictively tight skirt. Miles looks Ro up and down like a starving man near a piece of meat. Miles ends up subtly juxtaposed to the self satisfied Hill who (sticking to the previous metaphor) always has a “dish” on the side. The campaign that Ro worked on while temping at Hill’s advertising agency was Victoria Secret, and one of her jobs was to fill gift bags for a gala with products described as “Sexy! Ooh, very sexy and in different colors.” Defending decadence shamelessly, Miles at one point says, “It’s the price of admission;” he might as well have been speaking of this film.
As a Christian, I am confused at the dichotomy that is: how women dress. Anyone who sees this movie will know that the way that Ro’s body is being presented is to elicit a sexual response. So, if women have more knowledge, rights and freedoms than ever before, why, in a world where the rape, abuse and degradation of women is vilified, is the way that women (and girls) present themselves something that is rarely addressed?
“…that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing” (1 Timothy 2:9-10). The modesty expressed in 1 Timothy cannot be discussed without first addressing the image (or self image) that we all have. The Word of God says that we were (all) created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27). The freedom that very young children have about their own bodies and the bodies of their peers was the desire of God for all women (and men); “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25). The VERY first effect sin had on our world is recorded in Gen 3:10, “So he said,‘I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.’” We can know that God desired for all men and women to be comfortable with how they looked because of how God answers Adam, “And He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked?’” (Gen. 3:11a). Adam and Eve weren’t supposed to know that they were naked. Original sin causes all women (and men) to at one time or another, to one degree or another, be ashamed of their nakedness or bodies. Despite the fact that God’s question doesn’t get answered (“Who told you…”), He does deal with the shame that is now felt by Adam and Eve by clothing them with “garments [other translations say coats or tunics] of skin” (Gen. 3:21); God made clothing! So back to my dichotomy: why would we take the means that God gave us (clothing) to cover the fear that comes with nakedness and use it to draw attention to our nakedness which causes fear (anxiety, paranoia, insecurity, etc.)?
All the characters, even Miles and Ro, though they were writers by profession, spoke with the foulest vocabulary available. There were well over 70 profanities used in this movie, not including the two times that the Lord’s name was taken in vain. Here’s the break down: f*** was said (at times conjugated) 42 times, not including f*** you, said three times, s*** 19 times, b***-s*** 5 times, sob 3 times, a** 6 times and the words for a female dog and a fatherless child were used a total of 5 times. There were a few others. Perhaps the unabashed vulgarity was to add more grit to the tough New York City backdrop?
I wish they had given more leeway to photography, instead. Having supporting roles in this movie, both photography and music need to be mentioned here. The photography was good, but limited; the scenes designed for visceral affect based on the visuals were successful. The images in the final scenes were well calculated, really aiding in the success of the end of the movie. The music was extraordinary. The sometimes haunting, sometimes heady sounds danced in and around almost every scene in amazing harmony with the scene itself.
There are two scenes of violence in this movie. The first is when Harrison Hill finds out that there is a mole in his company. When he finds out who it is, he cleans out the guy’s office with the guy still in it: knocking stuff off his desk, throwing him around. The second is when Hill is in an argument with a woman, again, over loyalty (to his company). “I bet your wife is wondering the same thing?” she retorts, and he cocks his fist back, as if to punch her. She screams, and there’s a pause. “I am so disappointed in you right now,” Hill says, “But, just because you want to hurt somebody, doesn’t mean that you will.” I liked that line.
The Bible says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9) Have you ever thought, felt or done things that you’re ashamed of? We all have, of course and even worse we’ve all tried to cover it up. What would we have looked like in those moments? God, who is love, in His infinite mercy, covers those moments when we embrace His salvation (1 Jn. 4:10). Without His salvation, we still crave the peace and love that He created us to receive. It is the need for that love and peace that allows anyone to ever ponder the tagline for this movie: “How far would you go to keep a secret?” In Christ, we don’t have to go anywhere; Psalm 103:12 “As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.” Unfortunately, without Him, well, my grandmother had an adage for that: Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.
Bottom Line: While this story is an intriguing one, it is not one that I’d recommend to anyone. The sexual content alone is such that most people would find this movie either very offensive or a stumbling block. I have to say again this is a very interesting plotline, I just can’t say that it’s worth the price that you have to pay, in addition to the cost of the movie.
Violence: Minor / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Heavy
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.