THE FOREIGNER ½
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
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.
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
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
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.