REVIEW: “The Stranger” (2022)

Actor, director, producer, screenwriter, and playwright Thomas M. Wright helms “The Stranger”, a new psychological crime thriller inspired by the real-life police investigation into the murder of 13-year-old Daniel Morcombe. In 2003, young Morcombe was abducted while waiting at a bus stop. Eight years later, police arrested Brett Peter Cowan and charged him with Morcombe’s murder. Cowan was eventually sentenced to life imprisonment.

“The Stranger” is based on Kate Kyriacou’s non-fiction book “The Sting: The Undercover Operation That Caught Daniel Morcombe’s Killer”. Wright fictionalizes the intense undercover sting operation that eventually brought the killer to justice. Out of respect for the family, all the real names were changed and the movie (thankfully) makes no attempt at recreating the boy’s death. Instead it stays focused on the police officers – those working covertly in the field and those working behind the scenes putting the pieces together in order to build a case. It does move to its own unique gritty rhythm. But once you get in step with it, it’s hard to turn away.

Image Courtesy of Netflix

Wright’s story takes place in 2010, some eight years after the abduction and murder of a young boy James Liston. The police suspect a man named Henry Peter Teague (a cryptically chilling Sean Harris) but they lack the evidence for a conviction. So they set up a Mr. Big operation. That’s when the police create an elaborate ruse meant to fool their suspect into making a confession. It often consists of undercover cops creating a fake organized crime ring and then luring the suspect to join. They then build a relationship with the suspect in hopes of earning their trust.

Joel Edgerton plays a cop going by the assumed name Mark Frame who works in the Undercover Crimes Unit of the Western Australian Police. He’s good at his job and committed to every case. But it’s starting to take a toll. We get references to stress, depression, and trouble sleeping. He’s haunted by terrifying dreams, often connected to his work. And we see him laboring at home to be the best father he can be to his young son.

A fellow deep-cover officer named Paul (Steve Mouzakis) strikes up a conversation with Henry Teague on a late-night bus ride. Paul offers to let Henry in on some small jobs for the make-believe gang he works for. Henry accepts and is introduced to Mark who who takes him under his wing. Mark’s job is to loosen Henry up over time and get him to start talking. But this proves to be difficult and taxing. Since Henry is considered too dangerous for densely populated areas, Mark is ordered to isolate him. But that leaves Mark unprotected and unobserved (aside from his unreliable recording gear). Exasperated and worn down, it becomes a question of whether or not Mark can keep it together long enough to get the confession they need.

Image Courtesy of Netflix

While Mark works in the field, Wright routinely cuts back to Detective Senior Constable Kate Rylett (Jada Alberts). Her side of the story plays as a serious-minded police procedural as she works to put together a case against Henry that will stick. While her scenes feel a bit underserved, they’re still compelling and Wright uses them to offer us another side of the police-work that goes into cases like these.

As “The Stranger” shows, this kind of cop work changes people, and Mark is no different. Is it the prolonged close proximity to evil? Is it the crushing stress? Is it the feeling of isolation? Wright shows how all three wear down his lead character. And Joel Edgerton is essential to conveying Wright’s message, thoroughly convincing in his portrayal of a tortured man slowly losing his edge. It’s a central piece of this understated yet gripping thriller; a key ingredient that makes this cold, moody, and evocative slow-burn work so well. “The Stranger” is now streaming on Netflix


10 thoughts on “REVIEW: “The Stranger” (2022)

  1. I got so frustrated trying to keep up with this movie that I turned it off twice. I wanted to like it but it was just all over the map. Then I read some spoilers about it and realized I didn’t give it time to all come together. Oops. Ruined it in a way but I did enjoy watching the rest of it.

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