Posted September 30, 2018 by Chris Hick in Film Reviews

The Comfort of Strangers (1990) Blu-ray Review

The plots of Ian McEwan’s novels are usually fairly straightforward and don’t usually get involved in too many sub-plots with perhaps his 2001 novel, ‘Atonement’ being an exception. What they do have is a good deal of backstory with the characters. Otherwise little really happens if we think of ‘Saturday’ (2005) or ‘On Chesil Beach’ (2007). The same is also true of his 2nd novel, ‘The Comfort of Strangers’. Written in 1981 it was adapted into a film in 1990 and is has been given dual format release by BFI. The reason for its release by the British Film Institute is that it was adapted to the screen by renowned playwright Harold Pinter. Over the Summer, the BFI had run a Pinter season at the BFI Southbank called ‘Pinter on Screen: Power, Sex and Politics’, marking the 10 anniversary since the writer’s death. The film most definitely has a play like feel to it, despite the gorgeous Venetian locations, beautifully shot by Dante Spinotti, a cinematographer who has brought a good deal of style and lushness to the films he has shot if we think of The Last of the Mohicans (1993), LA Confidential (1997) and After Sunset (2004). However, the film adaption of The Comfort of Strangers is less Don’t Look Now (1973) Venice and more The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) with its atmosphere.

Until the shocking denouement at the end of the film, little happens. We are introduced to Colin (Rupert Everett) and Mary (Natasha Richardson), an English couple on holiday who have come away to Venice on holiday to re-assess their relationship. We learn that Mary has a child from a previous relationship and Colin is not committing. Over dinner they talk about their work and friends and grow closer, make love and enjoy al fresco dinners together. Richardson’s character is very natural, while the statuesque Everett does look more like a yuppie Greek God. One evening in a bar they meet an eccentric local who speaks excellent English. Robert tells them some odd stories and has an interesting way of delivering those stories. After the evening together, Robert invites the couple over to his place in central Venice where he lives with his wife, Caroline (Helen Mirren). Arriving they find that Robert and Caroline live in old and faded palatial Venetian splendour. Colin is wary and grows to dislike Robert and finds his behaviour threatening, even sinister. Meanwhile, Caroline confesses about how she grew to like Robert’s sexual aggression. Never the less they agree to see them a couple more times on the vacation.

As with one of his most psychotic performances as gangster Frank White in Abel Ferrera’s The King of New York, that happened to be made the same year, Walken is at his edgy and twitchy best in this otherwise odd confection of relationship drama and psycho character drama. The switch from drama to thriller at the films end jars and not necessarily positively. Beautiful to look at and making good use of its Venice locations, the film can be a little slow going in places and might in the end leave the viewer wondering what that was all about.

Extras on the disc include a commentary by director Paul Schrader, recorded just prior to the release of this dual format release. There are also two audio only track interviews with Schrader. Other extras include three vintage archive shorts on Venice and a trailer.

Chris Hick

Chris Hick