D: Martin Campbell / 113m
Cast: Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan, Orla Brady, Dermot Crowley, Rory Fleck Byrne, Charlie Murphy, Niall McNamee, Rufus Jones, Ray Fearon, Lia Williams, Michael McElhatton
At the beginning of The Foreigner we see Jackie Chan playing a role that we’ve not seen him play before: that of a concerned father. Already it’s a refreshing change, and though you might think he’s being a little over-protective of his teenage daughter, even he can’t foresee that when he drops her off a boutique clothes shop that she’s going to be the victim of a terrorist bom blast just moments later. But if Chan’s character, a Chinese Nuang chef called Ngoc Minh Quan, is stone-faced before, then he’s positively chiselled granite afterwards, as the London Metropolitan police investigation stalls quickly in its efforts to discover which dissident faction of the IRA carried out the bombing (they call themselves the “Authentic IRA”, as if the real IRA were somehow a bunch of phoneys). Quan learns enough from the police to enable him to go after Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Liam Hennessy (Brosnan), an ex-member of the original IRA brought into the Establishment but who still has ties to his once and fellow comrades. Is Hennessy the link that Quan needs to find the bombers? Will Quan be able to stay one step ahead of the police as he wages his own one-man war against Hennessy and his associates? And will anyone be able to answer the question, just how does one lone sixty-one year old Asian man that everyone’s on the lookout for, travel backwards and forwards between London and Ireland without racking up some serious air miles (oh yes, and being spotted)?
Adapted from Stephen Leather’s novel of the same name, The Foreigner is an action thriller that requires the usual suspension of disbelief at almost every turn, but which still manages, for the most part, to be entertaining. Chan is excellent value as the grieving yet violently focused Quan, a role he slips into with very little effort. It’s sometimes easy to write off stars such as Chan as not being “real” actors, but as Arnold Schwarzenegger showed in Maggie (2015), there will always be roles they can play that will surprise us. Chan’s melancholy, devastated presence is one that adds a layer of sympathy to the character that isn’t always considered a necessity in this kind of movie, but it’s a more than welcome change, and again, Chan is more than up to the task. So too is Brosnan, clearly relishing the chance to play an Irishman for a change and ramping up the character’s ambiguity; is he a good guy, or a bad guy, or just caught in the middle? Further down the cast list there are fine supporting turns from the likes of Crowley and Murphy (though her role is a little too similar to Polly Walker’s in Patriot Games (1992), and from the ever reliable McElhatton.
But while the performances are above average for a thick-ear thriller such as this, and director Martin Campbell does his best to keep things moving quickly enough so that the viewer won’t notice some of the more patent absurdities on display (again, just who is Quan’s remarkable travel agent?), the script by David Marconi either relies on too much exposition, or jumps from scene to scene disjointedly, making it difficult to keep track of what’s happening exactly, and why. That said, Campbell does know how to put together an effective action sequence, and though Chan isn’t as fast as he used to be, he still doesn’t have to rely on carefully chosen camera angles or rapid-fire editing to make himself look good. All in all, the movie is good in places, long-winded in others, but still well assembled enough to provide a couple of hours of harmless enjoyment – and sometimes that’s all you need.
Rating: 7/10 – Chan and Brosnan make for great adversaries, and Campbell is on solid form in the director’s chair, making The Foreigner an above average thriller with better ambitions than most; a bit of a throwback to thrillers from the Seventies (but with extra added millennial-style violence), this gives Chan his best role in years, and is an entertaining if occasionally cheesy action movie that doesn’t worry in the slightest about the things it gets irretrievably wrong.