TL;DR – This is a movie with a lot of moving parts, some which are simply amazing and others that don’t quite work as well.
Score – 3 out of 5 stars
The Foreigner is a really interesting film, because it is a film with a lot of moving parts, and it is delving into an area and setting you don’t see very often these days. However, while some parts of this film are simply amazing, others just don’t work at all, which creates a kind of juxtaposition. You’ll be sitting there during these moments of high intensity, or fascinating filmmaking, but then something from the story will just rip you out of it. So today what we will do after setting the scene is break down this juxtaposition.
So to set the scene, Quan (Jackie Chan) is picking his daughter Fan (Katie Leung) up from school, so that they could get to a store to pick up a dress for the upcoming dance. Fan rushes into the store to buy one of the last dresses available, and while Quan tries to park the car a terrorist bomb explodes in front of the store, killing Fan and wounding Quan. Quan tries to find a purpose after the tragedy, and is desperate for answers, but as the weeks go on the police are struggling to find leads. That is when Quan finds a link between the bombings and an old Northern Ireland militant group, and so he finds Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) a former member and now deputy premier of Northern Ireland to give him the names of the bombers. This sets off a chain reaction, forcing Quan to use his special forces training to find justice for his daughter. Now when we move on we will be talking about the film in its entirety, as such, there may be some [SPOILERS] ahead.
So let’s start with what works because there are some truly amazing moments here in The Foreigner. The first thing we have to talk about is the acting of the two main leads, Jackie Chan and Peirce Bronson. Take that opening sequence, in about only thirty seconds they completely demonstrate the relationship between Quan and Fan. To impart a relationship in such short of time it very difficult to do and it makes Jackie’s performance in the aftermath of the bombing so heart-breaking to watch. In many respects you can see the stark difference between The Foreigner and movies like American Assassin (See Review), without that experience the movie would have fallen at the first hurdle. Conversely, there are some really powerful moments from Peirce Bronson as the Northern Irish politician caught between competing factions, whilst trying to manipulate things to his own position. There are these moments when he is raging against everything and they were so fascinating to watch. As well this, the action scenes are all fantastic, closer to Jackie’s Chinese work than his Hollywood work. Now, of course, given the places that they were filming in, there were a couple of times when you could see a little use of blue screen in and around some of the stunts involving heights, but that wasn’t a major issue.
However, on the flip side, there are a number of big issues with the movie and most of them can be traced back to the story. This movie is so full of characters and subplots, that it is actually quite hard to keep track of everything. When you look at similar films like John Wick and Taken (well the first one at least), one of the things that they have is very straightforward narratives, you killed the dog, I’m going to kill you, you took my daughter, I’m going to go get her back. Now, of course, there are more layers to that in both of the films, but that is the central thrust. Here Quan’s hunt to find those who killed his daughter is only one of several threads going on in this film. You have Liam trying to use the bombing to get political pardons for former paramilitary members in jail, you have multiple affairs, the bombers who work for someone else, the police that is working it from their end, and also a journalist floating around. All of this causes the film to really drag once the action movies mostly to the farm, and a lot of the subplots could have been condensed, or presented in a better manner. This is on top of weird exposition dumps, which we have multiple times throughout the film, for the same thing. Now to be fair in the end all of this sort of works itself out, which is while The Foreigner is a much better film than a lot of others who have these kind of issues, but it is still an issue.
While there are some problems, there was one thing I found particularly off, and since this comes at the very end of the film you should probably skip this paragraph if you have not seen the film. Ok at the very end of the film Quan has hunted the bombers back to where they are staying in London, arriving at the same time as the metropolitan police. The terrorists don’t know that they are surrounded, but then Quan, in the guise of a gas worker attacks them from within the flat killing all but Maggie (Charlie Murphy) in the process. The police then raid the building but miss Quan, as he sneaks out. There is some tension because they know there is another bomb, but then the police start torturing Maggie to find where the bomb is, and finally kill her after she has told them to “tie up loose ends”. Ok putting aside the numerous national and international laws they broke, and the simple fact that this is not how the metropolitan police work, it makes no sense what so ever to kill her. She was much more useful alive given the simple fact that she knows how to smuggle plastic explosives onto planes. It was such an emersion breaking moment that it almost ruined the film for me.
So, in the end, do we recommend The Foreigner? Well yes and no. When the Foreigner works it is amazing and when it doesn’t, it is at best a drag, and at worst deeply problematic. At the very least I would say go see it to see some of Jackie Chan’s best acting, and to see him take down Bond, I mean not really but it is fun to think, also he sings the theme song, and come on that’s kinda cool.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of The Foreigner
Directed by – Martin Campbell
Screenplay by – David Marconi
Based on – The Chinaman by Stephen Leather
Music by – Cliff Martinez
Cinematography by – David Tattersall
Edited by – Angela M. Catanzaro
Starring – Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan, Michael McElhatton, Charlie Murphy, Liu Tao, Orla Brady, Katie Leung, Manolo Cardona, Simon Kunz, Pippa Bennett-Warner, Roberta Taylor, Dermot Crowley, Rory Fleck Byrne, Lia Williams, Rufus Jones, Caolán Byrne, Aaron Monaghan & Niall McNamee
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; Germany: na; New Zealand: R; United Kingdom: na; United States: R
The Foreigner is more complex than you are giving it credit. You need to delve a bit deeper into the subtext. The Brosnan villain is one of the most complex villains brought to the screen. You have a man who is one thing to the British and another to the Irish. It displays the manner in which subversives use their position to undermine a system from within.
This is a movie with resonance that stays with you and gives you a lot to think about and calls for repeated viewings. There hasn’t been a thriller of this complexity since Dirty Harry. And the performance take the movie to another level.
Ultimately, it is a film about false appearances. Things are not what they seem.
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