Australian Netflix film “The Stranger”, which was released in last month, is a chilly psychological drama which is incidentally based on one true crime story. I have no idea on how much the movie is actually close to its real-life story, but I can tell you instead that the movie works as a nice showcase for the talents of its two very good lead performers, and their uneasy interactions throughout the screen still linger on my mind even at this point.
The movie opens with the introduction of a low-life ex-con named Henry Peter Teague (Sean Harris). When he is riding a bus at one night, he is approached by some dude who happens to sit near him, and, after coming to see that Paul Emery (Steve Mouzakis) is not so different form him as your average ex-con, Teague helps Emery a bit when Emery comes to have a little document problem. Some time later, Emery contacts with him for returning the favor, and Teague does not say no although it is clear that a job offered by Emery is not so legal to say the least. After all, he desperately needs to earn some money for his living right now.
Emery introduces Teague to a guy named Mark Frame (Joel Edgerton), who in turn introduces Teague to several criminals working above him. It seems that they are the members of some powerful local criminal organization, and they are interested in hiring Teague for some dirty jobs – if he is trustworthy enough without any problem to notice.
What follows next is how Teague slowly gets the confidence of Frame and his criminal associates. For example, when Paul subsequently happens to get himself into some big trouble and needs to go away right now, Teague willingly takes care of getting rid of everything left by Paul along with Frame, and that soon leads him to more jobs and more “promotion”.
However, there is something Teague did not tell Frame and others from the beginning, and they already know, because, this is not a spoiler at all, they are actually undercover cops assigned to Teague. Several years ago, Teague was suspected of abducting and murdering a young boy, but he had to be released because there was no strong evidence to convict him. Besides that the police still cannot locate where the body of that young boy was buried, there is also a big alibi problem which has been another obstacle for the police investigation, and the movie pays some attention to how Detective Senior Constable Kate Rylett (Jada Alberts) struggles to solve this alibi problem with her partner in addtion to digging more into Teague’s rather suspicious past before the incident.
Meanwhile, Frame comes to befriend Teague more as “working” with him more, and he finds himself going back and forth between pity and repulsion. As a longtime undercover cop, he knows too well that he should be distant from Teague no matter what happens, but he cannot help but feel conflicted as observing how pathetic Teague is in many ways, even though he is also quite chilled by the dark and disturbing sides occasionally shown from Teague. As a matter of fact, his target’s creepy aspects even influence Frame’s subconsciousness somehow, and that also affects his relationship with his young son, of whom he occasionally takes care whenever his ex-wife is not available.
Frame’s supervisor is naturally concerned about Frame’s mental condition, but he and Frame have no choice but to go on as before because it looks like they and their colleagues are almost close to the finishing line. All they need to do is pushing their target a bit for making him confining to them on how he covered up his murder, though, as pointed out later in the film, they will still need to find the body of the murdered boy even after that.
The mood accordingly becomes more tense as Frame and his colleagues are pushing Teague to the final stage of their covert operation at last, but the screenplay by director/writer Thomas M. Wright, which is based on Kate Kyriacou’s nonfiction book “The Undercover Operation That Caught Daniel Morcombe’s Killer”, stays cool and detached as usual. We surely get to know a bit about Teague’s certain horrible past, but the movie wisely restrains itself instead of resorting to unnecessary sensationalism, and it maintains its restrained attitude even when its two main characters are finally not hiding anything from each other anymore.
The two lead performers of the film give a subtle but intense duo performance which strongly carries the story to the end. While Joel Edgerton, an ever-reliable Australian actor who also participated in the production of the movie, ably conveys to us his character’s growing mental toil along the story, Sean Harris, who has been one of the most intense British character actors since I noticed his solid supporting turn in Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” (2012), deftly handle his elusive character without making any excuse, and he and Edgerton are also supported well by a number of good cast members including Steve Mouzakis, Matthew Sunderland, Fletcher Humphrys, and Jada Alberts, who effectively functions as providing another perspective to the story.
On the whole, “The Stranger” is a dry but engaging genre flick with considerable haunting qualities, and I admire its solid technical aspects including the cinematography by Sam Chiplin, who did an impressive job of filling the screen with palpable gray atmosphere. It may be a bit too slow for you, but it will be a rewarding experience once you give it a chance, and it is surely one of the better offerings from Netflix in this year.