Netflixable? An Exceptional “True Crime” drama from Down Under — “The Stranger”

“The Stranger” is an Australian mystery that peels away its layers slowly and ever-so-deliberately. A film of sad, gloomy foreboding, it makes the viewer reach for details and wait for answers in the most elegantly calculated way.

The sense of a slow immersion in the known is so delicious that it’s almost giving away too much by even revealing the genre writer-director Thomas M. Wright is working in. But there’s no getting around the “true crime” nature of this picture, and no describing it without dipping into the police procedural tropes it leans on. Knowing that does nothing to break its spell.

Two strangers meet on a cross country bus in the dead of an Outback night. They come off as different versions of the same “type” — sketchy, down-and-out guys with pasts. But Paul (Steve Mouzakis) is somewhat more outgoing. Eventually, he gets the name “Henry” out of the bearded, soft-spoken and beady-eyed bloke opposite him.

Henry, played by the Brit character player Sean Harris of the “Mission: Impossible” movies and the Timothee Chalamet Henry V drama, “The King,” is guarded, fatalistic about how much longer a smoker with inhaler-worthy breathing problems can continue to survive by working with his hands, as he does.

Paul says he might have a hook-up. That’s how Henry meets Mark (Joel Edgerton), a bluff, all business type whose ponytail and beard and suspicious nature scream “underworld.” Henry isn’t put off by this unsolicited offer of “a bit of work” doing “a job for some people” secrecy.

“I don’t do violence,” is his only proviso.

Henry does ride-alongs with Mark, meeting people who need things, picking up a blank passport, making deliveries, accepting cash. And along the way, they strike up guarded conversations that, drip by drip, give us information on who they are and eventually what this is all about.

Actor-turned-director Wright — he did the “Acute Misfortune” Aussie artist’s bio-pic of a few years back– adds points of view as he ever-so-carefully doles out information. We hear faint and sometimes rising ringing sounds, loud enough to be remarked about by characters in the scene. We meet layers of mob hierarchy as we pick up who and what everyone is most interested in.

The police are involved, and one particular policewoman (Jada Alberts) has become obsessed with her latest case, an investigation which involves a staggering commitment of manpower and resources.

And Mark? He’s a divorced dad seriously disturbed by everything that’s going on.

Edgerton is quite good at conveying a man on the edge, trying to keep it together and not wholly succeeding. And Harris, who is right up there with Ben Mendelsohn and Dominic West when it comes to playing characters who could be anything, but deliver a creepy vibe on sight, is deliciously quiet and disturbing, letting the unkempt grey beard and shifty eyes do all the work.

But this is Wright’s show as he conjures up a movie whose every dark or overcast shot, every quiet conversion and every revelation contributes to the rising tension and the inescapable gloom tinged with grief that follows this “Stranger” — up close, and from a distance — from beginning to end.

Rating: TV-MA, smoking, profanity, violent subject matter

Cast: Sean Harris, Joel Edgerton and Jada Alberts

Credits: Scripted and directed by Thomas M. Wright. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:57

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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