The Stranger was censored at the Cannes Film Festival, where it had its world premiere.
Would you trust a complete stranger? That’s the question The Stranger asks based on a trust tale, beginning with a chance encounter when two men strike up a conversation on a bus. Soon, their stories intertwine as Henry (Sean Harris), a lonely wanderer with a mysterious past, befriends Paul (Steve Muzakis), a man who might give the chance of his life.
It’s not that simple, of course, but the dimly lit bus and the moody scenes that follow start to set the stage for a brooding thriller full of tension…even before you figure out what’s going on. Enter Mark (Joel Edgerton), one of Paul’s friends, who offers Henry a job offer, but it’s not strictly legal.
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Director Thomas M. Wright deftly walks through the shadows of rural Australia as Henry and we, the audience, try to unravel what’s going on. We may know very little about Henry, but we know even less about Mark. In fact, the first part of The Stranger takes you into the experience of being a passenger, riding with Henry.
But as soon as the stranger attracts you, it turns.
Confused, the stranger quickly reveals exactly what’s going on, while dramatically shifting the point of view from Henry to his new best friend, Mark. Here, Edgerton casts one of the defining roles of his career so far.
Stranger is loosely based on the real-life abduction of an Australian child in 2003 and the subsequent efforts of Australian police to bring the killer to justice. Mark turns out to be an undercover cop, but he walks so narrowly that he almost loses himself as he becomes the perfect friend Henry can talk to. Edgerton’s quiet discomfort as he slowly befriends the devil is absolutely sublime, and a glimpse into the character’s real life shows a very different side to the man. How he reconciles his identity is obviously a huge pain, and Edgerton expresses that in a very subtle and natural way.
Sure, Mark’s style looks like the object of his undercover, but the similarities go further, seeping into his private life. As unintended side effects began to appear, it became clear that Mark had gone too far. , and Edgerton’s characteristically male paranoia makes us nervous as he turns out to be more and more alien to himself.
There are shades of Denis Villeneuve prisoner Much of the tension is underlined, albeit with a decidedly Australian flair. But what director Wright has accomplished here is brilliant in its own right.
The disturbingly quick cuts keep us on our toes as we drip-feed details of Henry’s murky past. In fact, piecing them together is half the fun. The use of sound is also very clever. At one point, the audio of the movie visibly changes and becomes very hollow…and that’s when you realize you’re hearing the scene through a hidden microphone worn by one of the officers.
There are a lot of these neat tricks throughout—slow down tapes and smashed clips that instantly reveal when someone is lying. Wright used every tool in his arsenal to keep us on the edge of their seats, and it really worked.
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Sean Harris plays Henry brilliantly, and his unique strangeness magnifies the role tenfold. This strangeness is crafted by Harris, who uses an unsettling quietness to cast Henry as many of the eccentric wanderers. But more than that, there is hidden anger beneath the surface.
Despite Henry’s violent past, Wright made a definite choice to avoid any sign of blood, and instead kept a close eye on the darkness surrounding Henry and Mark. They may be on different sides of the law, but there is a disturbing similarity between the two that Mark is clearly grappling with.
The Stranger is a surprisingly complex thriller with a stylish tweak to the formula. Edgerton delivered some of the best performances of his career with Harris, who deftly used subtle darkness. Some excellent stylistic choices and a creepy soundtrack run through each scene to pull the whole thing together. As with most movies based on true stories, you have to wonder how much of it is true. Either way, The Stranger presents a dark reality tale of a cop sting that may be too much, and an undercover cop who struggles not to completely lose himself.