"And the Stranger will depart and return to the desert.
O my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger,
Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions."
T.S. Eliot, Choruses from The Rock
Having just returned from visiting my Hollywood talent agency son, I am reminded that the L. A. operating principles are networking and sex, the sum of which is power. And so, the formulaic Perfect Stranger summarizes in various amounts of sleaze this corporate engine, not just Hollywood's either.
Rowena (Halle Berry), an investigative reporter, goes after Ad agency tycoon Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis) because she believes he murdered her childhood friend in an act of preservation mostly coming from his affair with her and legions of other vulnerable females, many working for his firm. Perfect Stranger telegraphs its plot twists by cutting in images from Rowena's youth that establish she was abused and manipulated up to the current crisis. Yet she is not powerless given her considerable journalistic skills and a beauty transcending even that daily experienced by Hill.
In a formula often used to show the glass ceiling, from Working Girl to Dreamgirls, women just seem to work harder and don't always shun the use of sexuality to get their way. When a woman looks like Halle Berry, the temptation to take the shortcut to her goal must be daunting. That notion is the sub-textual thrust of this movie, and any other thematic weight is purely coincidental.
However, I enjoy trying to figure out plot twists (the last one is a challenge), watching a beautiful star, and noticing the uses of color and lighting in sometimes fresh ways. American movies do well with these superficial techniques. But as usual for formulaic thrillers, nothing substantive beyond the sensational is allowed, and predictability is the template on which the merits rest. Nothing is perfect about this film, stranger or not, but Halle Berry's face.