Review – The Foreigner

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In 2008, when Liam Neeson starred in a movie where he way trying to save his kidnapped daughter, nobody would have thought that the movie was kicking off one of the bigger trends in action movies in the last decade. But ever since Taken shattered box office expectations, it seems that every studio has been trying to capitalize on the trend of older men who are pushed to the edge when their family is threatened forcing them to use a “particular set of skills” that they thought were long retired. In the wake of Taken you’ve had movies like The Equalizer, A Walk Among the Tombstones, Edge of Darkness, 3 Days to Kill, The November Man, and others. Each time an older male star is chosen to be the action hero (Denzel Washington, Mel Gibson, and Kevin Costner being just a few examples from the movies mentioned above.) and this time around it Jackie Chan’s turn in The Foreigner, a movie which manages to fit this trend quite nicely.

Jackie Chan plays Quan, a simple businessman in London, whose life is torn apart when his daughter is caught in an explosion from a roadside bomb and is killed. Quan sets out on a quest of revenge searching for the identity of the bombers. The bombers call themselves the “Authentic IRA,” which leads Quan to Irish Deputy Minister, Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan). Hennessy was a former leader of the UDI in Ireland, but assures Quan that he doesn’t know the identity of the bombers, but is doing everything in his power to find out. Quan doesn’t believe in Hennessy’s innocence, and continues to try and force him to reveal the identity of the bombers. Quan continues to hound Hennessy, sending message after message, including planting a minor homemade bomb in his office and tracking him down to his isolated farm. As Quan continues to threaten Hennessy, Hennessy is desperately trying to find out the actual identity of the bombers as not only Quan after them, but the British government is as well, and Hennessy is trying to prove that his past doesn’t implicate him in the bombing.

Despite Jackie Chan’s prominent position in the marketing for this movie, Pierce Brosnan’s story seems to be the main one that drives the plot of this movie. The Foreigner sets itself up as a politically motivated, espionage thriller, and Liam Hennessy is the driving force behind most of the plot. While Jackie Chan is by no means a small part of the movie, the character of Quan is often pushed to the sidelines for large portions of the movie, only to pop up again without warning. You get the impression that if Quan didn’t exist, Hennessy’s story arc wouldn’t change at all. He would still be trying to find out who the identity of the bombers was. He would still be trying to prove that he was no way involved. Quan is more a thorn in his side than the driving force behind his actions. Make no mistake it’s a big thorn, but it’s impact on the plot overall feels minimal.

Both Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan are unique choices for their respective roles, as neither role fits is the type you would expect from each actor. Pierce Brosnan who is best known for playing the collected, suave James Bond, is give a character who’s world is falling apart around him and he is seemingly powerless to stop it. Chan, who is, in America at least, best known for infusing his action scenes with heavy doses of comedy, takes on a much more serious, muted role. Chan’s manic, madcap antics are nowhere to be seen here. Quan is a much more muted, collected character than we’re used to seeing from Chan. Both actors rise to their roles fantastically and it’s a great opportunity to see both of them stretch their acting muscles in a way we don’t get to see often.

In a way, The Foreigner feels like it could be improved by having more of any single element of the movie. The action sequences with Jackie Chan are still thrilling and creatively choreographed and it feels like the movie would benefit from having more of those.  But it can’t because we need time for the political thriller plot to develop. Likewise the scenes where Brosnan is trying to track down information and tense and interesting, and it feels like if this plot thread was given more time to develop it would be a really solid movie. But this plot needs to be put on hold so that Jackie Chan can take on a whole apartment of terrorists. In the end you have what feels like two really interesting stories that just don’t gel well, when they’re crammed together and forced to exist in the same movie.  

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