Cast: Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan, Ian Wood, Mark Tandy, Charlie Murphy, Niall McNamee, Ray Fearon, Lia Williams, Orla Brady
Director: Martin Campbell
Synopsis: A humble businessman with a buried past seeks justice when his daughter is killed in an act of terrorism. A cat-and-mouse conflict ensues with a government official, whose past may hold clues to the killers’ identities.
Jackie Chan is synonymous with ass-kicking martial arts movies and insane stunts. His worldwide success has been primarily on the back of his martial arts prowess and his willingness to smash his body in the service of nailing the perfect stunt. Most of his movies bank on these things. But there’s a side of him many outside of his native China don’t know about. For instance, did you know he has a string of album releases in China? I couldn’t name you a single song because they’re all in Mandarin, but the man has eleven albums to his credit. Also, he’s more than just an action or comedy actor. The number of serious roles he’s taken is few, with The Karate Kid and The Forbidden Kingdom being the most mainstream team I can recall. But he hasn’t shied away from serious roles.
Jackie Chan has said recently that he wants to focus on more serious roles while still delivering the action titles he’s most known for. Judging by his performance in The Foreigner, he can definitely pull it off. It’s a shame that the movie seemed like it didn’t need him.
Chan is cast in the role of Quan Ngoc Minh, a Chinese national that lives in London. His daughter is killed in a bombing planned by a group calling themselves the Authentic IRA. His grief at the loss of his daughter turns to rage as he sets him out for revenge against those who killed her. The trail leads him to Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan), a former IRA terrorist turned politician. What follows is a film ripe with political intrigue uneasily meshed with a Death Wish-style revenge movie.
For the record, Chan was great in his role. He’s uncharacteristically understated in the movie. His backstory is typical for a revenge-style movie. He’s Special Forces-trained and has a rough history, and that’s shaped him now, and so on and so on. But he’s not the grizzled vet with the take-no-prisoners mentality. Quan’s life seems to have been anonymous and normal until the bombing. When he decides to go after his daughter’s killers, he still has the weary look of a person who’s been run over by life a few times. His performance was really heartfelt and conveyed both his grief and his weary resolve.
The movie around him, however, almost doesn’t acknowledge his presence. Brosnan is the real focus of the film, not Chan. It’s Hennessy’s political standing and his connections to the IRA’s past that take the forefront here. His dealings with his associates and his maneuverings with the British are the main thrust of the movie. Quan’s attempts to hound Hennessy for the identities of the killers seems like an afterthought.
When Quan is threatened, he resorts to the kind of action and combat we normally expect from a Jackie Chan movie. Even here, though, Chan is understated. The only stunt worthy of his legend is one where Quan jumps out a window to slide down a pole. He pulls it off but still remains faithful to his character, who is supposed to be worn down and out of practice. All his action scenes – the few that there are – follow the same tack. This is not John Rambo taking on the Hope, WA police. This is an elderly man surviving against spirited but untrained Northern Irish men.
Quan’s revenge quest doesn’t gel with the thriller it’s thrown into. The result is a movie that doesn’t exactly carve out an identity. There are long stretches in the movie where the political machinations take center stage. Quan is absent during those periods. He’ll briefly pop up, injure a few of Hennessy’s men, and then retreat into the background, to be forgotten as the political tale weaves on. Quan is essentially nothing more than a fly in the ointment. He’s never really a part of the intrigue, nor is he a real part of the resolution. It’s almost as if Quan only exists in this world because it had to be his daughter that died.
The movie is entertaining for parts of its runtime, but the tonal clash between political thriller and action grinds it down at times. It’s well directed and features great performances by both Chan and Brosnan. Brosnan, in particular, is given the meat of the lines, and he has some really tense moments that he pulls off well. His accent is a little sing-songy, though.
(Funny thing: I originally wrote his accent off as a Brit’s take on an Irish accent. Then I start doing research for this piece and find he’s actually Irish. Go figure.)
The great acting and tense thriller moments are almost hijacked by the inclusion of the action elements. After watching it, I really felt that the action elements were shoehorned in just to try and capitalize on Jackie Chan’s popularity. What’s left is a weird mishmash that brings down the movie in general. For absolute sure, the movie I saw was nothing like the trailers.
I walked out of the theater not sure of how I felt about The Foreigner. After some thought, I feel that it was somewhat enjoyable. But it was a tonal mess. It’s like I grabbed a vodka neat and a chocolate shake and took a swig from both. Each one was great by itself, but it sure was a hot mess when together.