The Stranger review – a crime film set to a slow simmer

By Marc Miller
Published: October 20, 2022 (Last updated: November 1, 2022)


The eloquently ominous The Stranger is an extraordinarily patient and simmering Australian crime drama that slowly gets under your skin.

This review of the Netflix film The Stranger (2022) does contain spoilers.

The Stranger, a simmering Australian drama that moves to an overwhelming emotional boil, may be one of the most patient crime thrillers you’ll ever encounter. Written and directed by Thomas M. Wright (Acute Misfortune), this eloquently ominous film slowly gets under your skin, all before it begins to pull back layer after fascinating layer.

The film stars the human chameleon Sean Harris (Spencer, The Green Knight), a down-on-his-luck, sad sack ex-criminal named Henry Teague. He meets a man named Paul (Where the Wild Things Are‘s Steve Mouzakis), who he helps get his car out of an impound. Paul then helps Henry connect with a colleague involved in some shady dealings. His name is Mark (Joel Egerton), and he is a member of a criminal organization that only cares that Henry is upfront and honest with him. This is an issue since Henry Teague is not his real name.

Now, I went into The Stranger, not watching a single clip or trailer or reading up on the 2022 Canne film entry. The film’s trailer gives everything away quickly, and if you know the source material, everything will be spoiled immediately. So, I recommend stopping reading now if you want to avoid spoilers. You’ll thank me later.

Wright’s film is based on Kate Kyriacou’s nonfiction bestseller, The Sting: The Undercover Operation That Caught Daniel Morcombe’s Killer. The story follows Australia’s most famous undercover operation. The film’s great script has one big reveal during each act and keeps the viewer guessing what will happen. For example, in the first section, we wonder what Henry has caught himself in. As the story progresses, Henry begins to act stranger, and his behaviors can be erratic. The viewer now doesn’t have a protagonist to trust or put their faith in. Yet, no one seems to be who they claim. That’s because Harris’s character is based on Daniel Morcombe and Mark is an undercover officer.

What makes The Stranger so interesting is how it turns the crime thriller on its end. We are trained to watch car chases and watch detectives beat up criminals to get the answers they are looking for. Here, we are neck-deep in psychological warfare. Wright remarkably shows you how instead of iron fists as tools, we see Egerton’s Mark uses something entirely different — empathy. As a way to slow-play manipulation — allowing Mark to gain Henry’s trust.

You’ll also notice, if you are paying attention to the scenes involving two detectives going over evidence and background information, Mark is also triggering Henry. Why? In the hopes of pushing him to break and become vulnerable. For example, having Henry burn a car brings back memories of a previous crime the undercover officer is well aware of.

The Stranger is a much stronger film going into the experience blindfolded. However, there is no denying the craftsmanship that has taken place here. Wright’s film intentionally underwhelms but that never takes away from its compelling nature. While the magnetic Egerton represents the film’s anxiety and pent-up release, it’s the stoic and jaw-dropping turn by Harris that keeps the film such an absorbing experience. Along with Matthias Schack-Arnott and Oliver Coates’s beautiful score and Sam Chiplin’s evocative cinematography, Wright’s film captures the operation’s extraordinary composure and restraint with his intelligent script with hypnotic effects.

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Additional Reading for The Stranger

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