I’m more of an action guy than a thriller guy. But I can appreciate different stuff. Martin Campbell’s THE FOREIGNER (2017 – not a remake of the Seagal film) is definitely more on the thriller side, mostly seeking its excitement in a complex web of police, compromised politicians and terrorist groups all dealing with the aftermath of the bombing of a London clothing boutique.
At the center of it is Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan, FINAL SCORE). He’s a former IRA member and seems to be pretty fucked over by this incident because he’s built a reputation as a moderating force, but behind the scenes still has relationships and understandings with the IRA. This bombing was done by some young upstarts calling themselves “The Authentic IRA,” and there’s alot of pressure, including from police captain Richard Bromley (Ray Fearon, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST), to find out who’s responsible. If another bomb goes off it’ll be the end of his political career, so he spends most of the movie desperately asking around and trying to set up traps to out the culprits and stuff like that.
Hennessy already had too much drama in his life. We find out right at the beginning that he has a young mistress (Charlie Murphy, not the late comedian but an actress who was in PHILOMENA). We find out a little later on that his wife (Orla Brady, Jesse Stone: Death in Paradise) is having an affair too, and it’s with his nephew Sean (Rory Fleck-Byrne, VAMPIRE ACADEMY)! It’s especially cold because he’s very close with Sean and, because he’s a special ops soldier, has been sending him on secret missions as part of the hunt for the bombers.
There’s another person causing Hennessy heartburn, and providing all the movie’s best moments. Jackie Chan plays Ngoc Minh Quan, whose only daughter Fan (Katie Leung, best known as Cho Chang from the HARRY POTTER series) was killed in the bombing. He feels he has nothing left, and he pretty much dedicates his life to waiting around to meet with the police to try to get them to tell him the names of the people responsible. Then he learns about Hennessy and his IRA background from a news report, figures he’s the guy that would know, and sets out on a campaign to get the information out of him.
By that I don’t mean writing letters or talking to reporters. We find out different things about his background throughout the movie. Suffice it to say he’s been Hell and back not even including his time as a badass special ops guy for the U.S. in the Vietnam War. Despite the Vietnamese name he’s ethnically Chinese, so these assholes are only half ignorant in calling him “the chinaman” (also the title of the 1992 source novel by Stephen Leather).
Anyway, he institutes an escalating program of threats, improvised bombs and ass-kicking. It’s fun to watch them go from thinking he’s a nuisance to realizing he’s a psycho and then that he’s a serious dude waging all out war on them. They did not see this coming, and can’t shake the disbelief.
This is the ideal old man Jackie role. He looks so sad and tired and resigned, never mugging, but his facial expressions do communicate the pain he’s going through in the action, because he’s not invincible. He’s just determined. His size and age make it understandable that everyone underestimates him, and his skills make it believable that he keeps coming out on top. The fights blend Jackie’s moves with a hard-hitting, scenery-smashing, down and dirty fight style similar to what has been in vogue since the BOURNEs and Campbell’s own CASINO ROYALE, but with the clarity you expect from the Jackie Chan stunt team. There’s no choreographer credited, but many members of the team are, and one of the stunt coordinators, Han Guanhua, was a choreographer or action director for CHINESE ZODIAC, POLICE STORY: LOCKDOWN and SKIPTRACE.
Writer David Marconi got his star on the G.I. Joe cartoon in the ’80s, but he went on to write ENEMY OF THE STATE and get a story credit on LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD, so he’s into these modern surveillance state kind of storylines I guess. There’s nothing very original about the style or content of this one. In most ways this could’ve been made at any time in the past 15 years. But the score by Cliff Martinez brings in some cool synth sounds. I know it’s trendy but it’s a refreshing change after so many years of every movie like this sounding exactly the same. I can hear the exact drum machines and guitars it would’ve been – could’ve still been. Thanks, Cliff.
And there are other aspects that are just a little bit better than I expect from this type of movie. Like, they tend to be blandly colorless, but this looks pretty nice. Director of photography David Tattersall is a Lucasfilm guy – he shot the Young Indiana Jones show, RADIOLAND MURDERS, and STAR WARS episodes II and III. His connection to Campbell is VERTICAL LIMIT.
I gotta hand it to Campbell, he’s a more reliable journeyman than most, and you can add this to his list of good ones. You know I love THE MASK OF ZORRO, and I enjoyed GOLDENEYE and CASINO ROYALE, and EDGE OF DARKNESS was pretty solid – this is in the vein, but with more action. I don’t know what was up with GREEN LANTERN, but at least it wasn’t boring. He’s got a good energy to his stuff. Most movies of this are a lot more gloomy and leaden, so I was impressed. If it had been Gerard Butler or somebody instead of Jackie I don’t know if I’d be saying that. But it is Jackie, so I’m saying it.
And in the end I think there’s a pretty palpable feeling re: those who live by the sword and what they die by. For Hennessy, there’s no escaping his past or keeping only one foot in the dirty circles he’s connected to. And everybody fucking betrays each other. I believe the three people he’s closest to are all lying to him. For Quan, the war never fucking ends, no matter where he goes, and now he can’t seem to turn it off. Of course, he’s the one we root for, and maybe at the end he can move on with his life, but I don’t know. I like that it ends on hugging and tears.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.