Review: The Foreigner (2017)

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Director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, GoldenEye) gives us a film battling within itself as to whether it wants to be in the lineage of the solo revenge genre or a political cat and mouse thriller.

Without a doubt the best thing about The Foreigner, the new film from Casino Royale director Martin Campbell, is Jackie Chan. Chan, whom movie audiences have seen develop over the decades in the shadows on other big-screen movie action heroes, makes a real transition from what we’ve known of his work in the past. From working as a stunt extra in Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon, to becoming known as a human highlight reel for his Chinese films to his American break-out film in 1995’s Rumble in The Bronx, Chan’s ply and trade has been enough story to justify action centerpieces. In The Foreigner, Chan plays Quan, a London emigre with a tragic past who is very protective of his daughter, who means everything to him. When she is lost to him in an attack by a group claiming ties to the Irish Republican Army, Quan is wholly lost in a sorrowful, revenge-driven desire to unearth the names of the bombers responsible. This leads him to a Northern Irish government deputy named Hennessey (played by former 007 Pierce Brosnan), who Quan tasks with bringing him the bombers because of his former terrorist ties, or to pay the consequences.

On paper, this seems like a potentially enthralling scenario, a genre-bender of a political thriller with a revenge film as its plot driver. To his credit, Campbell initially goes down this route. Chan’s Quan has a background in guerilla tactics and he starts targeting Hennessey’s Northern Irish office with homemade explosives meant to drive Brosnan’s Hennssey into action. This is one of the film’s strongest sequences. However, the film shortly dovetails into 2 separate roads which rarely intersect. One being akin to First Blood, by way of Taken and John Wick, where we see glimpses of Quan’s tragic past as he sets up a guerilla post outside Hennessey’s Northern Irish manor. The other film being a cat and mouse game where Brosnan has to try and appease former IRA officials and the British prime minister with info on the bombers, lest his political career end up in peril. This plot strand plays out something like a drawn out version of the 1992 Harrison Ford film Patriot Games. In a lot of ways, this entire plot would play out better on a prestige format television show. Here, it seems to needlessly draw out the pace of the film rather than make it that much more engaging. Brosnan and Chan channel career best performances. The 3rd act of the film in particular showcases Brosnan’s rage as what a mean can do under the thumbscrews of political machinations above them. Campbell showcases the understated control of government you see throughout the newer Bond films with his steady directorial style. Chan gets multiple standout sequences in the film and if The Foreigner was more John Wick/Taken in giving him the reigns of this film, one could see a franchise starter here. The best parts of the film are when Chan’s Quan is on screen and his sad man driven to unspeakable depths is very much in line with the types of characters that have rejuvenated the careers of Liam Neeson and Keanu Reeves. However, the 2 plot threads in this film really negate the film’s narrative pacing and thrust.

Overall, The Foreigner gives us a small, but great, performance from Jackie Chan that touches on what he may be capable of in this stage of his career. Brosnan reminds us why he was cast in a role as prominent in the public consciousness as James Bond. Campbell, coming off a small break since directing the critically derided Ryan Reynolds Green Lantern film for Warner Brothers, juggles a lot of plot elements, and there may be too many here as a smaller story may have made for a stronger film.

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