Quan (Jackie Chan) drives his daughter Fan (Katie Leung) to a dress shop in London to pick up an outfit for an upcoming school dance. Fan runs into the store while Quan waits for a parking space to open when a bomb planted in on a motorcycle explodes. Several people are killed including Fan. His daughter was the last living member of his immediate family and Quan wants to know who is responsible for her death. A group calling itself Authentic IRA claims responsibility. Deputy Minister Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) is a former IRA operative and calls together a committee of Irish leaders to demand to know who is responsible. They all claim ignorance. Quan visits Belfast and meets with Hennessy asking for the names of the bombers. Hennessy tells him he doesn’t know but Quan thinks he’s lying. Quan, a trained and experienced ex-special forces soldier in the US Army, then begins targeting Hennessy, planting a small bomb in the bathroom of his office and destroying a barn and some cars at his country estate. Hennessy, concerned for his safety, contacts his nephew Sean (Rory Fleck-Byrne), also a former British special forces soldier, to track down and kill Quan. Meanwhile, the bombers are planning another attack targeting British political leaders.
There may be too much going on in “The Foreigner” for its own good. Aside from Jackie Chan’s subtle and effective portrayal of a grieving father out for revenge, we have Pierce Brosnan’s Irish politician trying to play both his former IRA colleagues and the British government for his benefit, a couple of affairs and centuries of hostility between religions and nationalities. All of that plays into the story of “The Foreigner” and some of it feels unnecessary. Had it trimmed some of the more extraneous and fantastical aspects “The Foreigner” might have been one of the fall’s better movies. It doesn’t disappoint but it doesn’t thrill either.
The most impressive part of “The Foreigner” is the performance of Jackie Chan. Quan is a quiet man looking to live a quiet life of hard work and love of his family. That is taken from him by a bomb. He still remains quiet, closed off, stooped over as he shuffles along like a broken old man. But we learn this old dog has some old tricks he thought he had left behind long ago and must now dust them off to exact his revenge. Chan radiates pain as Quan. His face, scarred by his tough and at times dangerous life, never betrays the anger and rage that must lie beneath the surface and yet we still can see and feel it. Chan gives a masterful performance that doesn’t rely on histrionics. A simple single tear rolling down his cheek conveys more anger and pain than a 15-minute monolog about his loss ever could. If you’ve only seen Chan in the “Rush Hour” films or his other lighter work you owe it to yourself to see “The Foreigner” just so you can see what a fine actor he really is.
Chan can also still throw and take a punch. It’s impressive with his many years acting as his own stunt man for most of his career that he can still walk much less do an action scene at age 62. Chan is jumping off roofs, being kicked in the chest, falling down flights of stairs and more in “The Foreigner” and looking good doing it. Chan can still be an action star long after most actors are ready to slow down and play grandpas.
Pierce Brosnan is also good as Liam Hennessy. The Irish politician has to perform a delicate and dangerous balancing act keeping the more radical elements back home under control while also placating the British. Brosnan can lay on the charm when the character needs it (like when romancing his mistress) but doesn’t have any trouble laying down the law when he’s questioned or tested (like when his wife wonders where he’s been all night). Brosnan can play cold-hearted with the best of them and he is ruthless at times in “The Foreigner.” It is an entertaining if not always convincing performance. The few scenes he has with Chan, especially late in the movie, puts his character in the tough position of being out of control and Hennessy clearly isn’t used to that. The choices Brosnan and director Martin Campbell made for the character felt out of character based on what we’ve seen before. Perhaps the bully is really a coward when his buddies aren’t around but the character’s reactions felt almost cartoonish in their extreme.
The biggest weakness in “The Foreigner” is the story. It spends far too long setting up the issues of Northern Ireland and “The Troubles” before moving into the revenge aspect of the story. While the fear of more violence between the IRA and the British is certainly a good point of conflict for a movie, the script by David Marconi invests too much time in scenes of greying or elderly men arguing over the best course of action to deal with more radical elements and the response of the government. Clearly we are barely interested in the politics of Northern Ireland and just want to see Jackie Chan kick some ass. The movie takes far too long to get us to what we want to see.
“The Foreigner” is rated R for violence, language and some sexual material. There are numerous fights, some more bloody than others. We see a person’s foot impaled on some nails. A man is shot in both legs then the head. A woman is shot in a gun battle, tortured for information then killed. Another woman is shot in the head. We see the aftermath of a bombing with injured victims shown. The sexual material is very mild. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.
I enjoyed “The Foreigner” more than I thought I would. Seeing Jackie Chan back in action was a bit of a thrill but his performance is truly the most amazing thing about the movie. It is a subtle and measured performance that is effective and at times heartbreaking. I know it isn’t likely but it would be great if he got a best actor nomination for this part.
“The Foreigner” gets four stars out of five.
This week I’ll review “Only the Brave” for WIMZ.com.
I’ll also be reviewing one of the following here on my page:
Same Kind of Different as Me—
Tyler Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween—
Listen to The Fractured Frame each week, available on your podcast platform of choice. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.