"If victory favors me, I will protect your child with my life."

"I ask you not to worry about that possibility. Because my son and I live on the Demon Way in Hell, we're prepared to descend into Hell through the Six Realms and Four Lives."

The Foreigner

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.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 11th, 2018 at 8:00 am and is filed under Action, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

14 Responses to “The Foreigner”

  1. Really liked this one. Jackie gets his name above the title but this is mostly Brosnan’s movie I feel and he gives a real good performance here. Campbell keeps things moving and the one real action scene we get is a great argument on why to cast Chan in this other than he’s been slowly moving to ‘heavy’ dramatic roles as of late.

  2. Saw this one because it was available on a looong flight, and I’m glad I did — way better than I’d expected from the trailers, which made it look eminently skippable. Jackie Chan is a personal hero of mine and this felt like the dream part for an aging action superstar. He got to be the “Taken” style creaky-looking dad who the bad guys should NOT have fucked with. And I agree with geoffreyjar that Brosnan killed it.

  3. Much like Vern’s recent Overlord/Robin Hood viewings, I caught this one because my car was being repaired and I didnt want to hang around at the dealership. (Followed up by Branaugh’s Murser On The Orient Express).

    Thought this was solid as hell. Its the kinda movie they stopped making in like 2003. Thought Chan was pretty good (feels like a late period Arnold movie plot) and he did a fine job and show hes still got the moves, even if they’re a little slower. (Though I would love another upbeat Chan role. Here’s hoping Shanghai Dawn is a reality)

    And yeah, it’s more Brosnan’s flick, and he knocks it out. (And props to the Martinez score)

  4. Campbell also directed two episodes from the first season of HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET, including the “Three Men and Adena” episode that helped bolster it’s profile early on. He also directed the television version of EDGE OF DARKNESS, notably featuring a score from Eric Clapton.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eteUUZ8U4Bs

  5. I also have a soft spot for Campbell’s “No Escape” because the cast is badass.

  6. The funny thing about “old Jackie” is he’s still aged up.

    If you want to see upbeat Jackie there’s still Bleeding Steel and Kung Fu Yoga Out there.

    I don’t necessarily feel late period Jackie needs to be serious. He can still be fun like in Karate Kid. I know he wants to show his dramatic chops and I guess in American movies that just means grieving your dead kids, but I think there are still better ways to utilize him.

  7. This is a really weird movie, because if you remove Jackie Chan from the plot, I’m pretty sure everything plays out exactly the same. He’s completely superflous, to where its like….this is a kinda ok IRA political movie, oh right Jackie Chan is here for a few scenes.

  8. I really liked this one, to the extent that I wish I’d seen it in the theater. Chan and Brosnan are giving it everything they’ve got, Campbell’s direction is rock-solid, and that Martinez score is fantastic. Damn, now I gotta go see what it did at the BO, coz I definitely wouldn’t mind another Chan vs. Bond flick.

  9. This wasn’t exactly what I expected, but I really dug it all the same. Jackie was less front and center than the trailers promised, but it’s still a great role that’s maybe has more of an impact because its doled out in small doses. And when he does get to do his action movie thing, it does not disappoint.

    Halfway through the movie, I thought to myself, “This is like those international thrillers that they used to pump out semi-regularly in the 80s or 90s.” And I was not surprised to find out it was based on what must be one of those dad-thriller paperbacks. But the fact that the kind of story it tells is such a throwback somehow makes it seem more refreshing.

  10. Also, it’s kind of funny that Brosnan’s character is very clearly based on Gerry Adams. I’m not steeped in Irish politics, but I wonder how that played in Northern Ireland and Ireland proper.

  11. The politics as the weak point of this movie. What could have passed in 1992 just simply isn’t relevant these days. But the movie itself is really good. We have to go back to NEW POLICE STORY to find Jackie in a similar mode.

    I’m doing a Jackie Chan retrospective on my own page these days, and I’ve picked 15 movies from the great man’s career. THE FOREIGNER is the one it ends with.

  12. Nice review Vern!

    I was surprised how much I liked this. I don’t know how well it played in Ireland, North or South, but as someone who lived in London in the ’80s and lost a lot of time to bombs and bomb scares, I was taken aback at how much I enjoyed Jackie dishing out some payback to Brosnan’s Adams-a-like.

    Campbell, journeyman though he may be, does a fine job with these mourning-fathers-out-for-the-truth stories, though Jackie can’t get close to Bob Peck in the original TV series of Edge of Darkness in the sad dad stakes.

    I’m not sure how big the pool of Northern Irish actors is, but I noticed a fair bit of overlap in the cast between this and A BAD DAY FOR THE CUT, which is a solid “You killed my Ma!” revenge movie set in Northern Ireland that I am very happy to recommend. Never underestimate a farmer.

    And in case my opening remark seems partisan, I’ll also recommend ’71, which makes it pretty clear the bloody Brits were up to no good in Northern Ireland, while it also neatly channels ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13.

  13. A Chinese man who worked for the CIA during the war in Vietnam going after the IRA 20 years after they laid down their guns, is a stretch in any case. Why didn’t they just tell us it was the early 90s?

  14. RBatty024
    The role is probably based more on Martin McGuinness who actually was the Deputy First Minister for a time
    And as for how it was received in Northern Ireland, I’m from that particular part of the world and I doubt anyone has even heard of this movie.
    I’ve barely heard about it and I’m a Jackie Chan fan and even I didn’t know it had an IRA plotline.
    So don’t worry, as far as I know, no cars were burnt out as a result of this film

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