Anthony's Film Review
The Foreigner (2017)
Two big-name actors deliver strong performances in a complex well-crafted thriller...
The Foreigner, based on the novel The Chinaman by Stephen Leather, features two of my favorite actors together for the first time. For years, I enjoyed the jaw-dropping comedic martial arts action and dangerous stunt work of Jackie Chan, in movies like Police Story, Drunken Master II, Rumble in the Bronx, and Rush Hour. I also loved to watch the James Bond movies, a fandom that truly started when Pierce Brosnan assumed the role of the suave British spy, starting with Goldeneye in 1995. Having Chan and Brosnan together in the same film would no doubt be a real treat for me, if the film is made well. Thankfully, both actors make The Foreigner a movie worth seeing. You also have to thank director Martin Campbell, who previously directed Goldeneye and the 2006 Bond movie Casino Royale, for presenting a solid thriller with plenty of memorable moments.
Let's start with Jackie Chan's character. He plays Quan, a humble man who has a daughter and owns a Chinese restaurant in London. The film begins with Quan picking up his daughter from school and taking her to a clothing shop where she intends to buy a new dress for an upcoming dance. But as he waits for her to return, something unexpected happens: a terrorist bombing that kills several people, including his daughter. Now he is grief-stricken to the point where he willfully gives up everything he has, even his business, to go on a personal revenge mission. He constantly contacts law enforcement authorities for the names of the killers. And even if the investigation into the matter has only just begun, he begins to take matters into his own hands, by taking violent action himself.
Enter the Pierce Brosnan character. He plays Liam Hennessy, a government official involved in investigation and defense from an office in Northern Ireland. One of the key aspects of the terrorist attack is that it may be the work of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), an Irish extremist group devoted to the cause of a united Ireland, without the United Kingdom controlling Northern Ireland. In a staff meeting, Hennessy warns that the attack may have been precipitated by a mole within his own organization. It is not long before he concocts an idea about how to identify the terrorist, one that may be questionable to the eyes of law-abiding government officials.
The stories of Hennessy and Quan soon clash and intertwine. Quan's method of urging authorities to find his daughter's killer is to carry out his own attacks, mainly bombings, to serve as a warning about how desperate he is for answers. This, of course, only forces Hennessy to turn against Quan. The conflict escalates with Quan facing several Irish men in deadly hand-to-hand combat. As we watch this, the line between the law and the lawless seems to disappear. It becomes hard to tell if Quan's attackers are working for the government or the IRA. The same goes for Hennessy, given that he, too, is Irish.
Although the story centers on two principal characters, the whole thing cannot hold together without an assortment of intriguing supporting characters. For example, there's the wife of Liam Hennessy who once had her own family tragedy, a reporter who unknowingly gets close to one of the terrorists, and a devoted IRA member who has a tense face-to-face encounter with Hennessy in an unforgettable scene. And don't forget about certain members of the UK government and the London police who are involved in tracking down the terrorists. This is one of those movies that requires a bit of effort to keep track of who is who and their connections with one another. It's not overly convoluted, which is good, but neither is it overly simple and one-dimensional, which is also good.
Jackie Chan may be past 60 years of age at the time of this movie's release, but that doesn't mean he cannot do action anymore. Yes, he cannot, and should not, do the insane stunts he used to do, but that doesn't mean he cannot and should not do simple stunt work and action scenes. In this movie, he shows us that he can still fight like hell. He can throw punches and kicks like before, plus wield a machine gun and jump down a couple of feet. To a certain extent, you may enjoy the action in The Foreigner like you enjoy the action in other Jackie Chan movies. The only difference is that the action is all serious, in the context of dramatic life-and-death situations.
Of course, this movie is not all about action. It's also about drama, because you need that element for a great thriller as well as the action. This is where you get to see Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan at their best. Chan comes alive as a man who is traumatized and uses his underlying anger as motivation to find his daughter's killer, while Brosnan comes alive as someone who is frustrated by Chan's character and appears mysterious in terms of what kind of person he is and what his true motivations are. In the few scenes where Chan and Brosnan are together, the dynamic between the two is tense for sure. The dramatic performances of the two actors essentially bolster each other. You cannot admire one while ignoring the other.
Another reason why The Foreigner is a tense movie is its relevance to current events. It is said that one particular scene in this movie involving an explosion was initially thought to be an actual terror attack, before clarification was issued that it was a controlled explosion for this movie. While fears from that incident were pretty much laid to rest, the general fear of terrorism is undoubtedly understandable. In recent years leading up to 2017, there have been several major terror attacks in some European countries, including the United Kingdom, carried out by the Islamic extremist group ISIS. While The Foreigner depicts Irish militants rather than those from the Middle East, the fear of the next terror attack, the shock of the attack itself, and the pain of the aftermath are no different than in reality.
This movie was one that I initially felt had a somewhat confusing story, but ultimately, I understood who was who and what their underlying motivations here. Now I can better appreciate the plot as a whole. On my 1-to-10 rating scale, The Foreigner is certainly at least a solid 8. But I was so impressed by the performances of Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan, the intense action scenes, and the overall look and feel of the movie that an 8 doesn't seem to do it justice. So I'm bumping it up by one to give a 9 out of 10. It just goes to show that age is not necessarily a limitation for actors. Chan and Brosnan may be different now than when I remembered them from years past, but it doesn't change the fact that they can act well. In fact, given how impressive their performances are in The Foreigner, I would say that perhaps they have actually gotten better, not worse, with age.
For more information about The Foreigner, visit the Internet Movie Database.