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.
My Take – I am all in favor of nostalgic love maybe that is why I continue to support actors like Tom Cruise, Will Smith among others despite their recent misses, and mainly as their releases back in the 90s is what I grew up on and introduced me to Hollywood blockbusters. Jackie Chan is another one of those actors, who despite leaving a bad after taste with his recent mediocre romps like Skiptrace, Railroad Tigers & Kung Fu Yoga, manages to excite the 10 year old still inside me in anticipation of his next release. While his five-decade career has been mostly defined by mixing acrobatic stunts with slapstick humor, back in his mainland, he has managed to occasionally dish out his serious side in excellent films, like New Police Story (2004), Shinjuku Incident (2009) and Police Story: Lockdown (2013), a result of which it came as a surprise to his English-language audience, when the trailers to this Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) directed film effectively sold Chan in taciturn avenger mode and emphasized the film’s brutal action content. What’s surprising is that the film plays out like a brilliant political thriller that holds your breath from the first minute of its 114 minute run time, mainly as never know what will happen next and are convinced to stare the screen at all times. Also sharing space with Pierce Brosnan, in the best role he has had in years, the film, with its action choreography, and top notch acting performances, is complete return to form for director Campbell after the 2011 intergalactic superhero disaster, Green Lantern. Quick fact: did you guys know that it was Martin Campbell who directed 1995’s GoldenEye which starred Brosnan in his first stint as James Bond?
Based on the 1992 novel, The Chinaman, by author Stephen Leather, the story follows Quan Ngoc Minh (Jackie Chan), a Chinese-Vietnamese restaurant owner, who loses his teenage daughter, Fan (Katie Leung), in a London bombing conducted by a rogue cell of IRA nationalists. With the police force and government thrown into disarray and no leads on who carried out the heinous act, Quan, distraught by the loss of his last remaining member of his family, decides to uses his former Special Forces skills to take matters into his own hands to bring justice to those who viciously ripped his daughter away from him. In his relentless search for the identity of the terrorists, Quan comes up on Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan), a Northern Irish government official, who has had a well publicized past as a soldier in the IRA. While Hennessy is already dealing with a political crisis as he tries to appease both sides of the peace agreement at a time of crisis, he must now contend with Quan’s harassment campaign, which seems to have turned a victim of terror to a terrorist himself. In terms of execution and performance, the film is surprisingly more than just another revenge film. To be frank, Director Martin Campbell could’ve quite easily put Jackie Chan’s death-defying stunts and Pierce Brosnan’s suave license to kill to paint the screen red, I am glad he didn’t do that. The film has several parallel storylines that inevitably converge – even the ones you think are extraneous – and the steady hand of veteran director Campbell keeps them easy enough to follow without losing sight of an important plot thread here and there. Here, director Campbell and writer David Marconi keep the story intense, clear and concise whereas other similarly themed films fail due to trying to be smarter than they are. The political incorrectness of the film is also refreshing – it doesn’t matter if you’re a male or female; you act like a terrorist, you get treated like a terrorist from the authorities. There’s never a dull moment in this one. For the first half of the film, it’s actually a well- balanced, dark and often dramatically intense film, and then once you’re settled into that, it switches back to the Taken-esque action thriller you were expecting in the first place, providing some good entertainment, and a genuinely enthralling story. What’s great about the film is that it knows you’re expecting action, and satisfies that with a couple of big bursts of action, but it most impresses when it comes to the slower, quieter sequences in which Quan begins his quest for justice after his daughter is killed, and he is left feeling utterly battered and alone. Bearing similarity to the Mel Gibson-starring Edge of Darkness, also directed by Campbell, and throwing in a dash of John Rambo, the film’s merger of the Hong Kong action flick with the Hollywood crime thriller culminates in a refreshing spin on two genres that have both been done to death by being surprisingly complex with its interwoven subplots of terrorism, political corruption and personal tragedy. Who knew kung fu would gel so well with gun-toting political resistance? At times, the Hennessy strand can feel like a condensed mini-series with an occasionally blustering Brosnan seizing the opportunity to play a steely figurehead who finds his intertwined professional and personal lives coming apart at the seams.
Hennessy’s problems range from the agenda of his wife Mary (Orla Brady), whose political rage has not been tempered by their now comfortable lifestyle, to being double-crossed by former associates who think he has lost his grit, entailing tough decisions being made with a stiff whiskey in hand. However, when their characters meet, though, the intensity seems toned down somewhat from its levels in their individual scenes – most likely, because neither man is sufficiently far apart from the other on the good-to-evil/light-to-dark spectrum for the viewer to be really invested in their antagonism. When it comes to the action scenes, director Campbell’s unfussy style works well with Chan’s choreography. Here, he has given Chan’s trademark swiftness and gracefulness a grounded, brutal swagger, and the film is all the better for it – this is the first time I’ve seen Chan, realistically for his age, fight his way through various enemies, and his great emotional acting also complements his exhaustive fight choreography, i.e., quick and brief, but consistently painful. Chan still retains his “no-kill” rule for the most part, but he still maims his opponents, in a woodland sequence that is a clear nod to First Blood. However, some fans may be slightly disappointed, as Chan, though still a central figure in the film, is not in the film as much as expected, especially in the second half, as the film shift focus hinges on Hennessy as he figures out the shit storm Quan had placed him into, involving a web of lies and deceit within his social and political circle. To say that the film takes a sharp turn into Bourne-level political conspiracy thriller is an understatement. Despite that, Jackie Chan in a role where he’s either pulling a long face or tearing, is one of the real stand-outs of the whole film, proving that he’s actually got the dramatic chops when it comes down to it, and impresses with a genuinely nuanced performance early on, bringing home the tragic nature of his character’s situation, easily letting you sympathize with him. Convincing as the stoic father who lost everything, I don’t think he needed much effort to portray the role, other than the aforementioned fight scenes. Chan, now in his 60s, still appears to be doing a good number of his own stunts, though the toll of his exertions shows a lot more clearly now. Aside from two cool scenes where he goes all John Rambo on pursuers in a forest, he is actually more effective as a grieving but also somewhat numbed figure, humbly beseeching (really – he’s so humble it almost hurts) first the British authorities and then Hennessy to come clean about his daughter’s killers. While it’s interesting to see Chan in a fresh light, this role might not work for fans that are used to seeing Chan’s humorous side. Pierce Brosnan, despite not participating in any physical fights, deserves credit for his performance as an ex-IRA-turned-politician. It’s refreshing to see Brosnan, who we’re so used to seeing having the upper hand as James Bond, play a vulnerable character brimming with weakness. Standing in stark contrast to cool, casual one-liners, the Irish actor shines with the delivery of his natural accent, firing expletives you’d never hear from 007 as his life comes apart at the seams, becoming more rabid as the walls close in. Being an Irish himself, he shined throughout the film with his performance, even though his homeland accent still need some refinements (In real-life, he loses his natural accent as a kid). In supporting roles, Rory Fleck Byrne, Rufus Jones, Orla Brady, Charlie Murphy, Michael McElhatton, Lia Williams, Ray Fearon, Tao Liu, Dermot Crowley and Katie Leung play their parts well. On the whole, ‘The Foreigner’ is an impressive and memorable thriller with an interesting theme and decent action sequences.
Directed – Martin Campbell
Rated – R
Run Time – 114 minutes