MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Action Thriller/Stars: Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan, Michael McElhatton, Liu Tao, Charlie Murphy, Orla Brady, Katie Leung, Ray Fearon, Dermot Crowley, Rory Fleck Byrne, Lia Williams, Pippa Bennett-Warner, Simon Kunz, Roberta Taylor, Rufus Jones, Niall McNamee, Caolan Byrne, John Cronin, Stephen Hogan, Aaron Monaghan, David Pearse, Mark Tandy, Donna Bernard, Scott Sparrow, Sean Campion, Sean Gleeson, Thusitha Jayasundera, Jonathan Cullen, Grainne Keenan, Jane Thorne, Stuart Graham, Yangmeizi Wang, Milly Zero, David Annen, Aden Gillet/Runtime: 114 minutes
I think it can safely be said that there are some actors who, although I love their usual work with an abundance of heart and passion, I do wish would branch out for their audience more. Not because I don’t think they’re talented as is, but just because it’s always such a delight when they do so since you never thought they would be able to pull this kind of work off with such skill and gusto. Indeed perhaps this is why Liam Neeson delighted audiences when he did the first Taken, the late yet great Robin Williams was able to send shivers down the collective spines of movie goers with turns in such films as Insomnia and One Hour Photo, and (on a personal note) why I really dig the heck out of the Jackie Chan slice of cinema I am reviewing for you today, 2017’s The Foreigner. Indeed here is a movie that’s advertising campaign may have focused quite a bit on Jackie Chan doing his usual martial arts shtick with style and flair to spare, but the truth is there is so much more to this movie than that. By that I mean buckle up because this is a much bleaker Jackie Chan movie than you might be anticipating. Yet despite that to say nothing of the fact that the narrative can be quite predictable at points there is no denying that this slice of cinema is still an engaging cinematic thrill ride thanks to not only really good work behind the camera, but also to a pair of against-type performances from both Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan in the lead roles respectively thus making this one under the radar hit that is definitely best enjoyed with a glass of whiskey on the coldest or rainiest day possible.
The plot is as follows: A cinematic adaptation of a 1992 novel called The Chinaman (in all fairness I can see why this film changed its title), The Foreigner gets underway in the locale of London with a sight that should by now be one that is a time-honored one we have seen before. That being a doting and loving father in the middle of taking his daughter to go pick up this lovely dress she has had her eyes on for some time because a charming young man asked her to the dance at school. In this film’s case the father is a widowed restaurant owner by the name of Ngoc Minh Quan and the girl is his only child Fan who he loves more than anything else in this world. Unfortunately whereas in some movies this would be either the middle of the film or even near the end of it, this is not the case here; merely it’s only the first 10-15 minutes. That’s because it isn’t long after the daughter heads into the dress shop that a bomb in the vicinity goes off and the girl is tragically among the list of people who the news outlets are listing as casualties of the disaster. We soon learn that the group claiming responsibility is calling itself the “Authentic IRA”. A claim that may threaten to spell a lot of trouble for the British government, but for one person within her wings it will prove to be a waking nightmare. This is because that man, a Deputy First Minister by the name of Liam Hennessy, is a person who was at one time a member of what I’ll refer to here as “The Old School IRA”, but who since has tried to keep the uneasy peace between the governments of the U.K. and Ireland to the best of the ability. Nevertheless, it is the man’s former IRA connection that sees Mr. Quan pay him a visit in Belfast to try and request his help in finding out who killed his daughter. Unfortunately when Hennessy politely yet firmly shows him the door, we see Quan decide to do something about it and take matters into his own hands in order to, in his own polite yet firm manner, egg Hennessey on into finally deciding to start his own investigation into the matter. Suffice it to say that by the time this slice of cinema is complete secrets will be revealed, backstabbing will have ensued, psychological mind games will have been played, copious amounts of whiskey will have been drank, and two men will find their lives, to varying degrees, changed forever….
Now in terms of work done behind the camera, this slice of cinema is helmed in a delightfully dependable and to the point style by skilled action film helmer Martin Campbell who is making a wonderful comeback to the genre in the aftermath of the horrific (though through no fault of his own) 2011 “attempt” (and I use that word extremely loosely) to adapt the iconic DC comic book hero Green Lantern. With this slice of cinema however, Campbell is most assuredly firing on all cylinders here and as a result gives us a slice of cinema that not only gives off a vibe of being more in synch in a lot of ways with something that Michael Mann might have made back in the day, but which also possesses a distinct unyielding manner. A manner that will bring to mind not so much his two top-tier Bond films from 1995 and 2006 respectively, but instead something more along the lines of his phenomenal tenure in the 80s when he was working mostly in British television giving the UK such gems as episodes of Reilly: The Ace of Spies, and the mini-series’ Charlie and Edge of Darkness respectively to name but a couple of examples. Heck we even get to see, albeit in a manner that feels very much shortened, a reprisal of the emotional moment from the latter mini-series where the dad in mourning starts to pick up items that belonged to his late child in the hopes that he’ll be able to keep some part of his daughter alive. Yes, in all fairness, the need to get to some vengeance in a fairly swift manner does result in Chan not being afforded as much time as Bob Peck was to showcase the pain of this truly heart wrenching loss, but be that as it may be it does still prove to be quite potent. Along with that, it should be noted that this slice of cinema is one that yes has action beats in it, but it is also a film that just as much operates like a political thriller from the 80s and early 90s like Patriot Games for example. Something that can definitely be heard in this film courtesy of a delightful musical score from Cliff Martinez that will definitely bring to mind movies from the era that were seemingly blessed with the ability to make a political issue into a (at the very least) fairly engaging film even if this slice of cinema is one that is most assuredly rooted in the present day in many aspects including no one-liners from Chan anytime he dispatches with a group of bad guys. Finally, it should be noted that when it comes to the action beats in this slice of cinema, praise must be given for Campbell and Chan’s distinct styles being able to merge so wonderfully well here. With that said however, there is one thing that I definitely feel is noteworthy about the action beats in this film. That being that this is not a slice of cinema a’la the 4th Die Hard where the getting up there in years action hero is able to kick all kinds of bad guy butt without ever really feeling like they are ever once in danger of being seriously hurt and/or overwhelmed by the numerous bad guys that are sent out to dispatch of them despite not engaging in that behavior in a while. Instead we see that Chan makes the wonderful creative decision in this film to fully embrace the fact that his character may be skilled at fighting despite being up there in years, but he is also fairly rusty at it due to having turned off that internal switch within himself years ago. As a result, yes this slice of cinema does give us some fairly enjoyable action beats to be sure, but they also have a sense of realism to say nothing of stakes to them courtesy of Chan permitting himself to actually get his butt handed to him by his much younger opponents in this slice of cinema just as much as he is able to kick theirs in typical Jackie Chan fashion.
Now in terms of performances, I am not going to lie to you dear reader: this slice of cinema is one that is blessed by a pair of delightful co-lead performances from Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan that are very much against type for both of these immensely talented men, but that just helps to enhance how fantastic they both are in this. In the case of the former, I am just going to say right now that I have always enjoyed Jackie Chan as an actor and I have long felt that the man is easily one of cinema’s most gifted performers of the past 6 decades period (and yes that is taking into account the kids’ show Jackie Chan Adventures, but keep in mind I grew up with that show so nostalgia really prevents me from speaking ill of it….that and it was just a fun show.). With that in mind though, this slice of cinema finally gives “Western audiences” a chance to see a side of Jackie that is by no means the goofy yet skilled martial artist they may know mostly from such movies as Cannonball Run, Shanghai Noon, and (especially) the Rush Hour films. Indeed, for this slice of cinema Chan instead does a terrific job of bringing out an inner turmoil and darkness on the level of someone like Charles Bronson would have. A feat that, as a result, is able to hook us on both his character as well the film itself with a set of expressions that manage to consistently showcase this maelstrom of agony that the character is able to convey not just in his melancholic-tinged vocal delivery, but in his eyes which always seem to be one wrong word away from just breaking down and crying buckets of tears as a result of all that he has had to endure in life. Suffice it to say that it is Chan’s skill at hooking you into both the internal emotional scarring of the character as much as certain things that we learn about him as the film goes along that really does see this character be one of the more intriguing heroes I have seen in a slice of cinema like this in a while. Sure this slice of cinema may play like a blend of Taken, a Rambo movie, and (I kid you not) a political thriller akin to Patriot Games, but Chan does a wonderful job of, in his own way, distinguishing this slice of cinema from those others and actually makes you interested in seeing this slice of cinema from a gravitas perspective rather than just viewing it so you can see him do some fancy martial artistry and kick bad guy butt like you would normally expect in a slice of cinema from this icon of the industry. This then brings me to Pierce Brosnan in this and, much like Chan, I have also always enjoyed Brosnan as an actor whenever he shows up in something (and yes this includes a certain movie where he tries to sing ABBA), but this performance of his is something else entirely. Indeed in a lesser actor’s hands, the character of Liam Hennessey is one that would have just been a one-note villainous force for our main hero to square off against throughout the movie, kick his butt from here to next week in a final showdown at the end, and then walk off into the sunset as the credits begin to roll. In Brosnan’s hands though, this guy not only gets his own arc in this, but also becomes a three dimensional character who is able to effectively transition from sheer panic and exasperatedly grasping at straws as Quan starts to psychologically terrorize him all the way to straight up menacing (even with that thick Irish accent in play) especially in a moment where he shoots a guy in the knee in order to get information out of him. Suffice it to say that Brosnan plays this guy in a manner that is both well-done, but also fairly engaging in his own right and, even after everything he goes through, it is still satisfying to see him get his comeuppance at the end of this.
All in all is The Foreigner a perfect slice of action thriller cinema in any sense of the word? Ehhh not really. Indeed there are quite a few moments within the narrative proper that are a wee bit fairly predictable and 95% of this film’s supporting cast do seem to be playing either an archetype that you should be able to figure out just where their character’s arc in this film is going to within 10 minutes of first seeing them appear on screen or they are so under-written that they are presented less as a three dimensional character and more as an tragic afterthought to include in the film for…..reasons. With that being said though, the action beats are still fairly well done, the work behind the camera is solid, there is still a fair bit of enjoyable intrigue on display, and the very much against-type co-lead performances given by both Chan and Brosnan are absolute aces. Thus if it’s a rainy day outside or you just want something enjoyable to kill a couple of hours with then definitely give this slice of cinema a chance. I promise you could do a whole lot worse. Make of that therefore what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Foreigner “2017” a solid 3.5 out of 5.