THE FOREIGNER (2017)
Director: Martin Campbell
Cast: Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan, Orla Brady, Michael McElhatton, Charlie Murphy, Dermot Crowley, Ray Fearon, Lia Williams, Tao Liu, Katie Leung
MPAA Rating: (for violence, language and some sexual material)
Running Time: 1:54
Release Date: 10/13/17
Review by Mark Dujsik | October 12, 2017
At 63 years old, Jackie Chan can't quite do the same kind of stunts and fighting that he did in the past. Then again, maybe he could, but he's smart enough to know that it isn't advisable. That's fine, because Chan at even a lower percentage of physicality remains a marvel, because the actor is known as much for the personality on display during his stunts as for the stunt work itself. The Foreigner gives him a chance to significantly alter that personality.
He's not his jovial screen persona here in the slightest. The movie acknowledges his age in the way he stumbles after a jump (even though we're confident he could land perfectly if required), but that's part of his character in the movie. The best actors can use their entire body as a way of communicating a character, so it only stands to reason that, given the opportunity, an actor as physically adept as Chan could turn in a great performance, with or without any stunt work involved.
One hopes that this vehicle is the beginning of a transitional phase for the actor, because there's a lot to admire in his performance as the mysterious, grief-stricken Quan, who has lost his entire family over the course of his life—mostly to violence and always within his view. While escaping from his home country, his two daughters were killed by pirates. He lost his wife in childbirth. His most recent loss comes at the start of the movie, as he takes his teenage daughter Fan (Katie Leung) to a dress shop in London, so she can pick up her dress for a school dance. A bomb explodes outside of the shop, killing a dozen people, including Fan.
The perpetrators are from a group that calls itself the "Authentic IRA." Quan attempts to get names from the British counter-terrorism organization, but even they haven't figured out who caused the devastation. As politicians and counter-terrorism officials try to track down the terrorists responsible, Quan begins to do his own digging into the history of the IRA. His research leads him to Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan), a "proud," former IRA member, leader of the Sinn Féin political party, and the Deputy Minister of Northern Ireland. If anyone would know who ordered and executed the attack, Quan assumes that this man would be the person. Quan abandons the restaurant he owns and his home to go to Belfast in order to get some answers.
It's a simple enough plot from Quan's perspective. Clearly, the man, who has a top-secret history with U.S. Special Forces in Vietnam, is out for revenge. Faced with barriers at every turn, he decides to take matters into his own hands.
The hook is that Quan's actions are extreme. After facing more obfuscation from the Irish minister, Quan detonates a bomb in Hennessy's building—"a warning," as the cops call it, but an effective one. Liam goes to his country estate with his wife Mary (Orla Brady), and Quan follows him there, resulting in even more violence and a few more explosions.
Around this point, the screenplay by David Marconi (based on Stephen Leather's novel The Chinaman—a word, by the way, that gets tossed around here with a frequency that's a little discomforting) rather abruptly and incongruously shifts the story's focus to Liam. From here, there's a lot of political infighting, between those in the party who want to return to the days of the Troubles and those who believe that continued peace is the only option, as well as plenty of treachery, double-crossing, and hidden motives.
The idea, one supposes, is that the movie wants us to identify with Liam, as a man who gets caught up in the revenge scheme of another man who has little understanding of the complexities of the situation at hand. It might work, although Brosnan's performance is almost intentionally unsympathetic. Either the actor or director Martin Campbell is about five steps ahead of the movie's game. Our sympathies, after all, should remain with Quan, and seemingly to compensate for that character's actions, the movie wants us to have a certain distance from Liam—the character whose story takes over the majority of the story's middle section.
The political intrigue is, well, intriguing, although it's hindered a bit by the fact that Brosnan's performance telegraphs something that we shouldn't suspect. Chan's performance, though, is consistent and consistently solid. There's a certain meekness to his earlier scenes, as Quan politely thanks and bows to government officials who offer him no help. By the time he goes into action, we know we're watching a man who is past his prime, and there's some real tension to the fight sequences, simply because we know that Quan is not one of the seemingly invincible characters of Chan's past work. Yes, he stumbles when landing from a jump, and he also possesses far less of the physical grace that we've come to expect from Chan's stunt work.
It's all part of the performance, which makes us wish that the movie would spend more time with this character, if only so we can see how far Chan can stretch his acting muscles. The movie itself suffers from some unfortunate focus issues, but The Foreigner gives us a new look at Chan, which is worth something.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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