The Australian thriller drama film “The Stranger” is a fairly great watch if you are into slow crime dramas where the tension is more internal than on the outside. Loosely adapted from a real-life incident that took place in Australia around 2003, this film follows a man with a tainted past trying to get his history cleaned up. Although this premise lasts only a short while, where “The Stranger” goes from there is enjoyable too and is mostly fueled by brilliant acting performances by Joel Edgerton and Sean Harris.
‘The Stranger’ Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?
Two strangers make an acquaintance on a bus ride on their way to Western Australia in a manner that is not too uncommon on long overnight bus journeys. However, these two men, Paul and Henry, soon become friends as they stick together the next morning as well. While Henry is going to WA for some undisclosed reason, Paul says that he had to leave his native Queensland in a hurry and is, therefore, on the road, signifying something criminal about him. His new friend does not mind this, though, as Henry helps Paul buy a used car by providing his own address for Paul. Within some time, Paul tells Henry that a man, or group, that he works with is in search of a reliable man, and he wants Henry to take up this job. Realizing that a job offered in such a manner would most definitely entail something illegal, Henry only says that he does not want to do any violent work and anything else would be fine. The next day, he is picked up by a different man from their decided meeting point, and this man introduces himself as Mark, a friend of Paul’s. Mark reveals that Paul had some criminal records in his past, for which he had to get the help of him and his group, which specializes in cleaning off criminal records for everyone who agrees to work for them. While he sees and even helps deliver Paul the required documents to get away to someplace safe, Henry himself feels drawn into such an offer. He agrees to work for the group, moving drugs around and spends the next few days driving with Mark, with whom he strikes up a good friendship. However, little does he know that Mark is actually an undercover police agent and that the whole police force is working hard to prove his guilt in the kidnapping of a child some eight years ago.
How Does Mark Have To Deal With The Pressures Of Working Undercover?
In May of 2002, a young boy by the name of James Liston had been kidnapped from a bus stop near his home and had never been found since then, with the police suspecting that he had probably been killed. Ever since the investigation into the case had begun, the individual that stuck out most as a suspect was Henry Teague, who was driving around the same area at the time of the abduction. He had admitted to his presence and said that he had been parked near the bus stop for some time and wanted the police to check the security camera in the area to confirm this. However, the police believed that Henry had spotted the camera and then created his story and that he had admitted to being in the area only because he knew he must have been caught on the camera, but in actuality, the security camera was not working at the time. Furthermore, Henry had also presented an alibi of being away to visit an elderly friend at her house, but this could not be confirmed either because the old lady had been put up at an old-age home shortly afterward, and she did not speak much either. While all this led to suspicion of Henry, the police also could never find any solid evidence against the man and had to therefore wait a long time to investigate and think of ways to catch the kidnapper. As is obvious, they could not create pressure on Henry either since the young boy he had kidnapped eight years ago might still be alive, and he would be the only person who could lead the police to him. A past criminal record would go a long way in solidifying the case against Henry, and the authorities also suspected him of having committed an assault on a child in the Northern Territories, but no police records had any mention of this. It was later found out that Henry had actually changed his name later in life and was originally called Peter Morley, and his crime in the NT had been recorded under this old name. The police knew that they could finally pressure the man with this new information, but they still had to be wary since there was still no evidence against him. The lead detective in the case, Kate Rylett, called Henry up and informed him that he had been summoned to appear in an inquiry in Queensland. Henry did so with nothing still found against him, and a bus ride was arranged for him to return to WA.
It was during this bus ride that Henry had befriended Paul; or rather, it was the other way around, as Paul himself was a member of the police force and had been part of this extensive plan. Paul served as the man who introduced Henry to the apparently powerful drug-smuggling gang that hides everyone’s past crimes, and he also became an example for Henry to see. While Henry’s serious and odd-looking countenance might not make it seem so, the man was indeed excited by the prospect of getting his past records erased, and he continued working for the group. At this juncture of the plan, Mark had walked into the whole operation and taken on the most difficult job—that of becoming very good friends with Henry and keeping track of him at all times. It was Mark who drove the suspected criminal around as part of their job and introduced him to the higher-level bosses of the drug gang. While Henry believed them to be the real bosses, these men and everyone accompanying them were, in reality, all police officers posing as smugglers. In the process, Mark did become a close friend of Henry’s, and he even gets invited by the latter to his house to have a drink one night. It must be noted here that Henry is not really the most welcoming man one would meet, for his appearance and quiet, serious demeanor make him seem rather unfriendly. Even Mark seems a bit surprised when the man asks him to join him for a drink at his house, especially since Henry would always carefully get off some distance away from his house during the initial days, possibly to not let Mark know its exact location. From the beginning of this friendship, Mark kept telling Henry that he should tell him everything about his past truthfully so that his group could help him, but this did not really happen. Newer truths about the man, like the fact that he had served two years in jail for assaulting a child in NT or that he had changed his name, are all gradually revealed by him to the group, and Mark acts surprised and angry. During all these times, Henry apologizes to Mark for not having told him all this earlier, and this further makes it seem like Henry truly believed Mark to be a good friend.
On the other hand, though, Mark had to deal with the immense pressure of living this double life. While pretending to be someone else every time he was around Henry, the man was recording every new movement and news on a small personal sound recorder. There are moments when he fears that his undercover would be blown too, like when Henry seems to suspect that Mark’s car has audio-recording equipment hidden inside, which it truly had. But the stress related is much more internal than this at most times since Mark knows that he is dealing with a child-murderer, after all. Henry often appears as a cold-blooded psychopath in Mark’s nightmares, and the officer even hallucinates the man inside his house a couple of times. The fact that Mark has a young son of about seven or eight makes his situation even worse, as a constant worry inside his head about Henry possibly harming his son is felt. Mark obviously has a tough time believing Henry, as he is not fully convinced that even the undercover is working against the man, and to his fearful psyche, Henry keeps appearing as a devilish fiend who enjoys hurting children. These fears are not baseless either since the real extent of Henry’s crimes is gradually revealed with the success of the police’s plans. As an ultimate initiation into the gang, Mark takes Henry to meet with the boss who ensures that his workers’ past is wiped clean, John. In reality, John happens to be a senior police officer too, and in a private session with Henry, he asks the man to come clean on all his crimes so that he can get rid of any evidence with regard to them.
‘The Stranger’ Ending Explained: Do Henry’s Crimes Be Finally Proven At The End?
While Henry opens up to John inside a hotel room, Mark and other members of the police force hear their conversation from a different room with the help of a live audio feed. Not only does Henry admit to kidnapping the boy, but he also reveals that he choked him to death shortly after. The man now says that the hints and leads that the police had followed at the time, which he had heard on the TV news, were all wrong, and he goes on to further describe his actions. While all this is recorded, the police still need some form of evidence to strengthen their case, so they decide to make further use of this opportunity. John and Mark convince Henry to take them to the exact spot where he had killed and disposed of the remains of the boy so that they could make sure that no trace of this crime could ever be found. Henry bites on this bait, and he leads them to a place inside a forested area where he had committed the crime. The police force, which had been waiting for this signal, rushes out and arrests Henry Teague on the basis of his confessions. An extensive search of the area is carried out, and finally, some evidence of the murdered boy is found, which ensures that Henry will not be able to get away anymore.
“The Stranger” puts into perspective the very real mental stress that an undercover police officer has to endure, as opposed to the usual thrills that mass entertainment portrays. At the end of it all, Mark breaks down when he is alone, and this is for a collective of reasons that range from grief for the murdered child to fear for his own son’s safety. Having worked and lived so closely with someone who had committed such a crime, Mark knows very well that such men also exist in the world who would murder children and wish to get away however they can. While there is a possibility of interpreting his tears to be for Henry, who had opened up as a friend, as well, this is perhaps not in line with the tone of the rest of the film. This job of working closely with a hardened criminal leaves a long effect on Mark, one that is not always the healthiest, as he is seen sitting outside his house smoking away while staring at the darkness, but one that would take a long time to recover from.
“The Stranger” is a 2022 Drama Thriller film directed by Thomas M. Wright.