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Six Degrees Of Separation Review

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★★★★

A few years ago some New York socialites were taken in by a well-spoken black youth who claimed to be the son of Sydney Poitier and at college with their children. Insinuating himself into their homes on the pretext that he had just been mugged, the curiously harmless con man would cook a sensational meal, provide extraordinary conversation, offer his hosts walk-on parts in his "father's" movie version of Cats and accept overnight accommodation only to invite a gay hustler round for sex in the spare room.

Playwright John Guare turned this freak news item into a Broadway hit, which was a stage triumph for Stockard Channing in the role of the society matron shaken by this encounter with the bizarre. Fred Schepisi then turned the play into a film which has been sitting on a shelf for nearly two years. And, despite some fuzzy thinking in the third act, when it gets hard to see what is on Guare's mind, the result is a thoroughly engaging and pointed film. Channing, who justifiably earnt herself an Oscar nomination last year, is excellent as the precise, fussy, yearning wife of Donald Sutherland's stuffy but oddly childish art dealer, and Smith intriguing as the smooth-talking stranger.

Guare writes wonderful dialogue (one bit character has a speech about a pink shirt which is an unexpected highlight) and the cast deliver each epigram and outburst to perfection, the film brilliantly structured as a series of hypnotic dinner table anecdotes. Bruce Davison, Ian McKellen, Mary Beth Hurt and Richard Masur pop in as the bewildered secondary dupes, eagerly participating as Smith's desperation finally reaches poignant heights. In all, it's been well worth the wait.

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