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Australia 2022
Directed by
Thomas M Wright
117 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Stranger, The (2022)

(NB: this review contains a spoiler).

Perhaps it is the consequence of our origins as a penal settlement and a brutal one at that but there is a noticeably high proportion of Australian film which explores the dark side of our collective psyche. Even more note (or thesis) worthy, from Wake In Fright (1970) to Wolf Creek (2005),The Boys (1998) to Snowtown (2011) without exception these films match blow for blow the disturbing realities in which their stories are grounded. Largely however the violence they depict is not the physical violence of the action movie but rather a psychological violence which affiliates them with the Conradian horror of Apocalypse Now (1979).

Wright cut his teeth on Acute Misfortune a 2018 documentary-like biopic of sorts about troubled Australian painter and heroin addict, Adam Cullen which has clearly well-prepared him for The Stranger his follow-up which is based on a book by investigative journalist Kate Kyriacou called 'The Sting: The Undercover Operation That Caught Daniel Morcombe’s Killer'.

I haven’t read the book but Wright’s adaptation of it for the big screen comes across as unusually well-crafted,  on the one hand carefully laying out the complicated covert operation which caught the killer and, on the other, imagining what some might regard as the literally diabolical bond that developed between the killer and the undercover detective whose task is to lure him into a police net (a practice legal in Australia but not the USA).

With the help of cinematographer Sam Chiplin, editor Simon Njoo and composer  Oliver Coates, writer-director Wright achieves a unity of form and content which is found only in the best films (setting aside the ugliness of the deed with which it deals).

Most immediately impressive however are the performances by Joel Edgerton as the cop Mark Frame and British actor Sean Harris as the killer, here called Henry Teague The Stranger charts Teague’s gradual identification with Frame who works to undermineTeague’s emotional bearings and ultimately a need to share our inner life or put even more simply for friendship. Edgerton’s role almost demands a defensive taciturnity making his performance the less expressive of the two whilst Harris is outstanding as Teague, a creepy character one might well find in a film by David Lynch, a director no doubt whom Wright admires).

I can’t say what the film’s title specifically refers to but if it suggests to you the general idea of “estrangement” as an aspect of the human condition you won’t be too wide of the mark. 




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