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Six Degrees of Separation

Flan Kittredge (Donald Sutherland) and Louise "Ouisa" Kittredge (Stockard Channing) are husband-and-wife New York art dealers who are trying to secure an investment from a wealthy South African (Ian McKellen) over drinks at their upper West side apartment when Paul (Will Smith) appears at the door with a knife wound in the abdomen and a remarkable story. Claiming to know the Kittredges' children from college, Paul's charming manner soon has the trio of socialites transfixed, and before long they decide to abandon their restaurant reservations and allow Paul to cook dinner for them. He regales them with stories, including a thoughtful thesis on Catcher in the Rye, and then reveals that his father is Sidney Poitier, who is preparing a new film version of Cats, which he says he can get them parts in as extras. As the evening draws on, Paul accepts an invitation to spend the night, but by morning the Kittredges are horrified to discover he hired a male hustler to share his bed. Initially outraged by the situation, Ouisa and Flan soon discover Paul is a con artist, as they compare notes with another affluent couple and a divorced doctor in their Manhattanite social circle. The fundamental problem is that, while they all can prove that Paul lied to them in one form or another, none of them can establish that he stole any money or property or did anything for financial gain. Rather, Paul's lies and machinations all seem designed around meeting interesting people, being invited into their homes, and forming meaningful, if brief, relationships. So why, under such tenuous circumstances did these sophisticated, professional adults open their homes up to such a complete stranger? One look at their spoiled, ungrateful children illustrates the fundamental loneliness that dominates their lives. Based on the popular Broadway play by John Guare (who wrote the screenplay) and directed by Fred Schepisi, Six Degrees of Separation is a remarkably open film for one that has been adapted from the stage. Guare creates a rapid flashback technique for Channing and Sutherland (the two storytellers here), and Schepisi blends the captivating tale with enough Manhattan backdrops to rival a Woody Allen film. Smith, while adequate, is the most uneven performer here, able to play off his fellow (and superior) actors but less natural when he is asked to carry a lot of the weight by himself, particularly with his longer monologues in the first act. And even though both he and Sutherland are big-name movie stars, Channing offers the most memorable performance, straddling the rift between Paul's vulnerable humanity and her husband's harsh pragmatism, and wondering if we are all as close to each other as the film's title suggests. Solid widescreen transfer (2.35:1), Dolby Digital 5.1, trailer. Keep-case.
—JJB



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