Movie review of The Stranger: With style and substance, the new Netflix movie, which stars Sean Harris and a revitalised Joel Edgerton, subverts (and honours) genre norms.
The Stranger, or variations on it, is a title that appears in dozens of movies. Some use The Strangers in the plural, while others omit the word entirely because, as Justin Timberlake famously said, it sounds cleaner. But The Stranger is the kind of movie title you wouldn’t ever read on a first draft; it reads like a last-minute studio demand. It’s ambiguous enough to work for a variety of stories and yet conveys an element of risk that some audiences might find appealing. But something else happens when you watch a movie called The Stranger. Unconsciously, you predict that it will be passable. This is presumably because the title shouts generic sameness loud and clear. Additionally, how amazing could a film that has the same name as a Stone Cold Steve Austin movie possibly be. All of this is to imply that the most recent movie to bear this name, a sombre Australian murder thriller that had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival this year before making its Netflix debut this week, didn’t merit this kind of treatment. This movie is a slow-burning, arthouse death look into the abyss, and its title hardly captures that.
Sean Harris’s character Henry is a sketchy character who becomes acquainted with Joel Edgerton’s undercover police officer Mark. The majority of the film takes place in 2010, but Henry was suspected of killing a little kid in 2002. Since then, he has been roaming Australia by himself, keeping to himself, and seeking a new beginning. Mark enters his life and promises him exactly that while posing as a member of a powerful criminal organization.
The notion of this movie seems a lot schlockier than it actually is when you boil it down to its fundamental essentials
The Stranger, a film directed by Thomas M. Wright, is not remotely comparable to Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. Similar to Bong Joon-Memories ho’s of Murder in terms of narrative scope, it jumps back and forth in time as the detectives examine an old case. It also has a darker tone than Cary Joji Fukunaga’s True Detective; a lot of philosophical reflection on the nature of evil is present. The Stranger is a fantastic new addition to the era’s wave of depressing Australian films, which also includes Sleeping Beauty, Snowtown, Animal Kingdom, and the most recent Nitram.
The movie is much over 30 minutes long before we first glimpse sunshine. Thanks to Mark’s intervention, Henry has a chance to feel hopeful once more after being welcomed into the mob with a shrug and a handshake. He squints at the sun and exclaims, “I’ve never felt more free,” as the man tasked with getting a confession from him observes silently. Even though it is initially implied that Mark and Henry would eventually become friends despite their circumstances, the film never actually goes that route. In anticipation of Mark making a discovery that would allow them to get closer to Henry once and for all, Wright, who also penned the screenplay, frequently cuts back to other detectives who are toiling away in the shadows.
As artistic as Wright’s filmmaking is, The Strangers is really a procedural
The experience is comparable to seeing an Andrew Dominik picture. It is apparent how much work goes into a decade-long search for a child killer and how many moving elements (and resources) a case like this necessitates. The nuanced character development does not interfere with the plot’s forward motion. Think
about the scenes with Mark’s son. Mark is irritable and generally seems distant, so he is definitely out of his element as a single father, but he also shows a genuine compassion for the child. Even though it borders on self-parody, the movie somehow manages to make you temporarily forget that the investigating officer has a child who is the same age as the one he is trying to bring to justice. This may be due to the fact that we first meet Mark’s son before learning more about the kid Henry is accused of killing. A worse film would have flipped the script.
Which takes us to the seemingly uninspiring title of the movie and its subtle profundity. The Stranger could be a nod to either Mark or Henry because that is essentially what they are to one another, despite how close they ultimately become. However, it could also be a reference to the age-old warning that mothers give to their children, a warning that the child Henry is accused of killing is likely disregarded. In addition, despite being based on a true story, the movie withholds any information regarding the incident. Additionally, neither the victim nor their family are mentioned in any way. Where its allegiances lie is clear to all.