THE STRANGER. One of the best movies of 2022
Australian cinema is as separate as the country-continent itself. Located at a significant distance from other continents, culturally closer to Europe, geographically closer to Asia. Films from the land of kangaroos are also characterized by a certain separateness – usually due to an atmosphere unattainable elsewhere, finding its source in the mystical, infinite spaces of the Australian outback. Thomas M. Wright’s The Stranger, Netflix’s latest crime drama straight from Australia, also draws you into the story it tells with its mostly stunning atmosphere.
The Stranger is the story of an undercover operative, Mark (Joel Edgerton), who develops a close relationship with the subject of the investigation, Henry (Sean Harris). The former plays the role of the right hand of the head of the criminal organization, while Henry, who is taking his first steps in it, has an overwhelming desire to belong somewhere, to have at least a substitute for “family.” In an unhurried narrative, the two men carry out small jobs, talk, simply spend time together – viewers looking for strong thrills won’t find much here for themselves. This is neither gangster nor investigative cinema conducted in a showy Hollywood style. Thomas M. Wright, so far known more as an actor than as a director, has his own idea for the story – he wants to let it flow, and at the same time combine it with another, more detective-like plot conducted as if from the side. And while this very interweaving of motifs may seem a bit chaotic, perhaps even ill-conceived, in this patchwork of scenes and threads everything has a very important role in the intricate building of the climax.
Sleepy outback hides dark secrets
When it comes to a form, The Stranger seems like a dream – and not a pleasant, satisfying one. No, it’s not – Thomas M. Wright’s film beguiles like a splinter for most of the screening. Maintained in shades of sepia and dirt, the story is filled with characters that are not only unsympathetic, but downright repulsive – some of them are discouraging in their appearance, others by their disposition and their actions. At the same time, however, The Stranger, for a crime story, contains relatively few chilling sequences – except perhaps one, when one of the investigating detectives (Jada Alberts) describes at length and in detail a certain crime from years ago. Yes, in Wright’s film it’s not the images that repel, but the words – coldly spoken, usually without much emotion, but cutting like a razor blade. In this dreamlike, and at times almost soulful, atmosphere of the Australian outback, between crimes committed in Australia’s Northern or Western Territory, it is the dispassionate nature of the spoken words that strikes most.
Every once in a while, maybe once a year – and this is almost an ironclad rule – I happen to come across a cinematic gem from which absolutely no one would expect delight. An unassuming, intimate, often low-budget production (no budget is evident in The Stranger!) emerges from the flood of streaming creations and strikes like the right hook of a professional boxer. This is exactly the case with the excellent film by Thomas M. Wright, a director, after all, still unpolished, just picking up his shoestrings on the other side of the camera. A harrowing, gripping story based – alas – on true events, seasoned with stunning, albeit minimalist, performances (the Edgerton-Harris duo is acting gold!) and a mesmerizing music score by Oliver Coates – all this makes The Stranger rise to the rank of one of Netflix’s best productions this year. I myself believe that the film, which just a few months ago took part in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival, is – I’m not afraid to write it – one of the best films of 2022.