A film review by Craig J. Koban October 24, 2017

THE FOREIGNER  jjj
  

2017, R, 114 mins.

 

Jackie Chan as Quan Ngoc Minh  /  Pierce Brosnan as Liam Hennessy  /  Charlie Murphy as Maggie / Sara McKay  /  Katie Leung as Fan  /  Liu Tao as Keyi Lan

Directed by Martin Campbell  /  Written by David Marconi, based on the book by Stephen Leather

 

 

 

The new political revenge thriller THE FOREIGNER is unlike any other Jackie Chan movie he has made...which may disappoint those looking for another lively and action packed martial arts epic. 

THE FOREIGNER is, as just mentioned, unlike any other Jackie Chan movie he has made...which will greatly satisfy those dire hard genre fans of his that are looking for something from the 63-year-old chop socky legend that's decidedly against the grain. 

And make no mistake about it: Chan is indeed an unqualified legend in his field, having cultivated an iconic and highly distinguished career out of marrying Buster Keaton-worthy levels of inspired comic slapstick with impossibly daring stunt work and gravity defying kung fu mayhem.  He's also developed a reputation for putting life and limb on the line for his art by performing innumerable and hellishly dangerous stunts in his films.  However, advancing years has forced the Asian star to rethink and recalibrate his image, and this is where THE FOREIGNER comes in, which is a vastly more somber minded, meditative, and dramatic opportunity for the performer to stretch his thespian muscles.  Don't worry, though, because Chan is still unfathomably dexterous in the film's many action scenes, but the whole tone of the enterprise is more psychologically complex and thematic compelling.   

 

 

Based on the 1992 novel THE CHAIRMAN by Stephen Leather, THE FOREIGNER opens with a scene of nightmarish immediacy: Quan Ngoc Minh (Chan) is a London residing restaurant owner that's introduced in the film driving his teenage daughter to a local dress store.  Tragically, a bomb goes off at the establishment, killing not only his daughter, but many others near its epicenter.  Predictably heartbroken, Quan then embarks on an impassioned mission to discover the names and whereabouts of the culprits.  It appears that a rogue cell of the IRA has taken responsibility for the attack, which prompts Quan to seek help from the authorities, most specifically Commander Richard Bromley (Ray Fearon), who politely informs the grieving father to let the police handle the investigation.  Dejected, Quan then looks towards other avenues, like governmental official Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan), a former IRA operative that has long since given up that life for a publicly quiet one in Belfast, but Quan isn't particularly convinced that Hennessy has abandoned his roots completely. 

Even though Hennessy is handling the investigation into the bombings and is claiming cooperation with London investigators, Quan nevertheless believes that such public niceties are simply a false facade, and upon meeting him for the first time he pleads with official to give him the names of the bombers.   Hennessy remains steadfast in his denial that he knows the guilty culprits, which leaves Quan feeling even more uneasy about his trustworthiness, so he thusly embarks on a terror campaign of his own against Hennessy to shock and awe an admission of complicity out of him.  As the film progresses and more headway is made by Quan, he becomes even more convinced that Hennessey is in bed with the terrorists, and in the meantime Hennessy learns that Quan is no mere "old Chinaman," but rather an extremely lethal special forces vet that's trained in guerrilla war and kicking ass in all forms.  Understanding the severity of Quan's threat, Hennessy surrounds himself with his own army of loyal henchmen that Quan, rather entertainingly, picks off one by one. 

People come to films like THE FOREIGNER for action, and it mostly doesn't disappoint in that regard, but the film is infinitely more enthralling as a character showpiece for the unlikely, but incredibly effective on-screen pairing of Brosnan and Chan.  Both characters are not prototypical black and white heroes and villains and instead have much more layers of gray lurking beneath.  Hennessy is a duplicitous minded politician, no question, but has a legitimate need and yearning for political legitimacy despite his shady past.  Yet, he's inexplicably drawn back into the darker underbelly of his IRA days not only with his bombing investigation, but also in dealing with Quan's hit and run campaign on him.  Quan himself is not squeaky clean either, seeing as he will resort to methods oftentimes shockingly similar to the extremist act that caused him to lose his daughter to get the intel he so desperately needs.   

The film's title is ultimately telling as well, especially in the sense that it's not explicitly referring to Chan's character (the Vietnam born Quan is a foreigner in Britain, but Hennessy is also a foreigner as an Irish born citizen in bed with British politicians).  Both characters too, it can be easily argued, have histories tied to violence that was used for the purposes of their own respective countries.  Both men, in some respects, also try to go clean with lives of normalcy.  It's that morally dicey dramatic undercurrent at the hearts of these characters that makes THE FOREIGNER so unexpectedly intriguing, and Brosnan and Chan give career high performances with their respective tricky to navigate characters.  Brosnan often doesn't get enough credit for being a routinely fine actor, but his turn as his terrorist turned diplomat is equal parts emotionally conflicted, ruthlessly determined, and authentically layered throughout.  Chan, on the other hand, sheds away his usually joyful proclivities and plays Quan with a vengeance fuelled and caged intensity that's a million miles removed from the countless happy-go-lucky heroes he's played for decades.  Chan's performance is cemented in emotionless stillness; he's like a caged animal stalking his prey and waiting for just the right moment to pounce.   

THE FOREIGNER was directed with workmanlike precision and polish by Martin Campbell, whom you may recall directed Brosnan in his first James Bond film in 1995's GOLDENEYE and went on to make arguably the best 007 entry ever in Daniel Craig's rookie effort CASINO ROYALE over twenty years later.  He wisely hones in on the film's ugly details about the troubling past lives of Quan and Hennessy and is instrumental in generating thankless performances of gritty veracity from his stars.  He's no slouch in the action department either, and much of the pleasure of watching THE FOREIGNER is baring witness to Quan going into full-on Rambo mode while tormenting Hennessy at his home in the country.  There's also a sensationally thrilling climax pitting Chan against multiple adversaries that involves guns, knives, fists, feat, and multiple household appliances being used as weapons.  Sometimes, the editing of these action scenes lacks the bravura and show stopping clarity of the JOHN WICK films or the recent ATOMIC BLONDE, not to mention that it appears that some sly editing was used to hide the fact that the approaching retirement home aged Chan is probably not doing all is own stunts.  Nevertheless, Campbell gives the film a thoroughly lived in and grounded texture that's admirable. 

Some critics have been labeling THE FOREIGNER as Chan's version of TAKEN, which is a bit too simplistically unfair.  THE FOREIGNER deals with serious subject matter with palpable real world ties that helps elevate it far above the B-grade trashy eccentricities of the aforementioned Liam Neeson series.  To be fair, there are times when THE FOREIGNER does contain imagery that may hit a bit too close to home for some (one scene of a double decker bus being bombed will be uneasy to watch considering the city's recent history of terrorist violence).  There's also a claim to be made that THE FOREIGNER is perhaps a bit too densely sub-plotted with too many secondary and tertiary characters vying for attention for its own good.  But those are minor nitpicks, because the resulting film is so hypnotically engaging on a character arc and theme level that it helps erode those foibles.  That, and it's a terrific outlet for Chan in terms of showing us that there's considerably more to him as a performer than many have had the opportunity to see in the past.  There's a melancholic gravitas to this stone cold father that was brutally wronged and pulled back into a past life of bloodshed.  Not many actors can project such a disturbing history with just a world weary and intensely raw stare, but Chan sure does here.  This is his best film work in years...and, again, unlike anything else he's done before.   That's to be celebrated.   

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