Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Martin Campbell
Stars: Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan,Rory Fleck-Byrne, Michael McElhatton, David Pearse, Dermot Crowley, Ray Fearon, Katie Leung, Orla Brady, Charlie Murphy.
Jackie Chan is one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, known for his energetic and carefully choreographed fight scenes and also for doing his own, often dangerous, stunts on set. But Hollywood hasn’t quite known how to handle him properly, and Chan has found himself stuck in a number of formulaic light weight action comedies like the Rush Hour series and Shanghai Noon that don’t do him justice. It’s been a long time since he starred in a straight action movie. The action thriller The Foreigner is another disposable generic revenge driven action drama that takes a leaf from the Taken playbook.
Chan follows the likes of Charles Bronson, Liam Neeson and Arnold Schwarzenegger as an older grieving father driven to seek bloody vengeance. Chan plays Quan Ngoc Minh, a former Vietnamese refugee who runs a restaurant in London. But when his daughter becomes collateral damage after a bomb is detonated by a cell of rogue IRA terrorists calling themselves “the authentic IRA”, the mild mannered and quiet Quan wants answers. When the authorities politely but firmly refuse to help provide him with information about the responsible parties, Quan turns his attention to the only other person he thinks is responsible.
Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) is a former Irish terrorist who is now part of the government working to maintain a fragile peace and keep the various factions in line. Convinced that Hennessy is responsible, Quan makes his way to Belfast and wages his own guerrilla war, planting bombs in his offices and his country estate. Both Hennessy and Quan are survivors of previous unpopular wars, and although they may share a few things in common they are deadly enemies. Thus begins a deadly cat and mouse game between the two men. Drawing upon his own special set of skills forged during the Vietnam War, Quan orchestrates a campaign of terror against Hennessy, his family and bodyguards. They continually underestimate the seemingly quiet Asian, and Quan continues to outwit and outfight the generic bad guys.
The Foreigner is based on the 1992 thriller The Chinaman written by Stephen Leather, a former journalist who drew on his own experiences in South East Asia and working the crime beat in London to inform his thrillers. The novel has been adapted to the screen by David Marconi (Enemy Of The State, etc), who has tried to negotiate the complex web of terrorism and politics at the heart of the story. He has obviously tweaked the source material to accommodate Chan’s screen persona, and worked in some physical dexterity and kinetic action sequences that play to his strengths.
Although now in his early 60s and entering the twilight of his time as an action here, Chan walks with a shuffle and his face is now etched with wrinkles and shows his weariness, although he shows little sign of slowing down. There are a couple of standout physical action scenes here, including a claustrophobic fight scene in which household appliances become part of his arsenal. He acquits himself well with the action, but he also brings gravitas and some strong emotions to his performance and brings a hint of pathos to the character. But the biggest problem is that Chan also goes missing for long periods of the movie.
For his part Brosnan delivers a nicely ambiguous performance, and the former Bond star brings a devilish charm to his role as the shady, morally bankrupt Hennessy. He seems to relish the character who is seemingly modelled on former IRA leader Gerry Adams.
A Chinese/British coproduction, the revenge thriller The Foreigner is very much a throw-back to the action cinema of the 80s, and the central concept of the IRA waging a new war in Britain seems dated. The director is Martin Campbell (who directed Brosnan in his first outing as Bond with 1995’s Goldeneye, and also rebooted Bond for the 21st century with Casino Royale), a genre specialist who keeps the action moving at a fast pace throughout. The action scenes are well choreographed. With a topical theme of terrorism, this film is grittier and more violent than much of Chan’s previous work. The action has been crisply shot by cinematographer David Tattersall, who worked with Campbell on Vertical Limit.