Review: The Stranger (Spoiler Free)

Lately I’ve been on a TV kick. Fall is a prime season for great TV and I’ve been getting lost in Rings of Power, House of the Dragon (Season 1 review here), Atlanta, Unsolved Mysteries, Andor, Chicago Fire (don’t yuck my yum), Dahmer, The Watcher, and Survivor (Episode 6 recap here) so I think it’s been weeks since I watched a movie for a first time. Last night as I was scrolling through Netflix I remembered that The Good Nurse just dropped and was ready to curl up and get my Jessica Chastain on. However, thanks to the automatic preview feature on Netflix my wife got a glimpse of it and said that she wants to watch it too and if there’s anything I’ve learned about being a husband in the last five months, that meant I had to keep scrolling.

So I landed on The Stranger, a boringly titled film I had heard nothing about and based on the Netflix logline it was simply described as a crime thriller featuring Joel Edgarton that debuted at Cannes. I love a good crime drama. I love me some Joel Edgarton. If it was at Cannes it’s probably not total garbage, right? Gotta tell you, I thought it was pretty damn good.

The Stranger is an Australian film from director Thomas M. Wright and is based on a high-profile missing child case in Australia. Sean Harris plays Henry Teague, an ex-con looking for work who seems to be looking to leave his past behind him. A new acquaintance introduces Henry to Mark Frame (Edgarton), a shady organized crime lieutenant who turns out to be an undercover police officer (not a spoiler) investigating Henry as a person of interest in the disappearance of a young boy eight years prior. Mark takes Henry under his wing of his undercover mob life and gives him a sense of belonging that he has long been searching for. From there the timid and sheepish Henry begins to slip back into his old ways while Mark struggles with living his double life as a mad man’s best friend.

This film certainly won’t be for everyone but fans of the true crime genre should get a kick out of it. It’s dark and brooding, much like Out of the Furnace or Killing Them Softly, and while the ending probably won’t blow your mind the journey there is where the film is at its strongest. The editing is tight and there’s very little fat on the two-hour run time amplified by an incredible score from composer Oliver Coates. But the real meat of this film is in the performances of Harris and Edgarton.

To me, Sean Harris has always been an actor that makes me wonder “where have I seen this guy before?” And he’s had a solid career with the Mission Impossible franchise (I’ve only seen the first one which he is not in), Prometheus, The King, The Green Knight, among others. However, after this performance I said “Okay, that’s Sean Harris.” As Henry he delivers a fantastic depiction of a man capable of completely unhinging at any given moment. Though clueless to the investigation surrounding him, watching him leach on to Mark and grow more and more reliant on a man who we know has no intention of returning what he’s given to him is equally heartbreaking and uneasy. Throughout the film Wright peels back Henry layer by layer and each layer is more disturbing than the last. There’s one intense yet soft-spoken monologue he delivers about amputees that will leave you with your eyes seeking refuge in the depths of your butt.

Edgarton is probably in my Top 10 favorite actors working today. The man is just an actor’s actor. He’s thrived as a lead and in supporting roles, in indies and blockbusters, as an everyman and as larger than life characters. The Australian started making a name for himself with supporting roles in the Star Wars prequels, King Arthur, and Smokin’ Aces to name a few but started getting more notoriety with films like Warrior, Zero Dark Thirty, The Great Gatsby, and Exodous. Even after his career has blown up he hasn’t shied away from unique indie projects like this (see It Comes at Night and The King) and he absolutely nails the role. As an undercover we see him as his cool and collected criminal façade but we also see a man breaking down psychologically every minute he’s away from Henry.

The film falls off in the final act though not enough to ruin the tension of the first 100 minutes. Though dark in subject matter the film is pretty clean in what is shown. Wright makes the choice to focus on the hunt for Henry rather than showing the heinous nature of the crime he is believed to have committed. This results in a two-hour psychologically thrilling game of getting a squirrel to eat a peanut out of the palm of your hand.

Again, this film likely won’t be for everyone but if you like Edgarton, Harris, or the true crime genre then I think you will enjoy this film. I doubt it will be involved in many awards conversations but Sean Harris really is that good. I keep a running tally of my favorite films that come out each year and of the 35-40ish I’ve seen so far I have this one just outside my Top 10.

The film is currently available on Netflix.

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