Sunday, February 5, 2023

The Stranger

Movie Name:
The Stranger
Year of Release: 2022
Director: Thomas M. Wright
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris, Jada Alberts, Steve Mouzakis, Matthew Sunderland, Fletcher Humphrys, Alan Dukes, Ewen Leslie, Gary Waddell, Sean Dealey
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Crime
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review
"The Stranger" which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2022 is actor/writer/director Thomas M. Wright's second feature, following the well received "Acute Misfortune". The film is based on the true story of the investigation of the disappearance and murder of Daniel Morcombe. The film introduces us to Henry Teague, whom we soon learn has a minor record for assault, or so he discloses. He strikes a friendship with Paul Emery on a bus trip, who mentions he can put him in touch with good people and an Organization which will help him get back on his feet. Henry soon meets Mark Frame, and alongside with Paul, they give Teague the impression that the Organization they work for has heft and ties with all sorts of institutions which can help erase any wrongdoings he has done, as long as he is honest and transparent about his past. Henry is soon made aware Paul is being moved, since he has apparently gotten himself into some sort of trouble. Henry helps getting him a new passport and plane ticket so he can get out of the country. Mark in the meantime starts introducing Henry to the leads of the Organization, with the constant demand always being that he is completely transparent about his past with all of them. As it turns out, Mark, Paul and everyone in the Organization are undercover policemen, and they are trying to uncover the disappearance and murder of a young boy years earlier. As Mark relays what he has been finding out about Teague, who is using a false name, they soon realize they have to procure a confession in order for the case to hold in court. As the pressure mounts, Henry finally caves in and confesses to more wrongdoings. 
"The Stranger" is a meticulous procedural based feature, one that takes its time in revealing who all the players in the narrative actually are. When the narrative starts unfolding, there's a sense of meticulousness to this activity and Organization that Henry is about to join, which builds a suitably enigmatic environment both for the character and for the audience, which persists throughout most of the feature. We never get to learn much about Henry, or Mark and any of the supporting characters, aside from the investigation in which they are involved. And that's possibly one of the less accomplished aspects of the film: the characters are largely cyphers, never showing much of who they are, since they all have secrets (Henry's criminal past and Mark's police investigator role). While there isn't much in terms of characterization of the key players, their interactions are nonetheless always compelling, always strategically tense, where questions are posed and relationships established just to elicit a specific type of reaction/response. The film is very successful in building this universe and context, while also focusing specifically on the relationship of Henry and Mark, without ever making it into some clich├ęd narrative device. All the cast is impeccable, with highlights going to Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris, Ewen Leslie and Matthew Sunderland. The production team is equally superb, featuring a great score from Oliver Coates, cinematography from Sam Chiplin and production design from Leah Popple. A solid film worth watching.