'The Foreigner' Review: Jackie Chan Connects With the Heart and Other Pressure Points

It's no franchise-starter, a la Taken, but Chan's "old man gets revenge" flick is a terrific action/drama all the same.

The Foreigner

It’s no franchise-starter, a la ‘Taken,’ but Chan’s “old man seeks revenge” flick is a terrific action/drama all the same.

Martin Campbell rebooted the James Bond franchise twice, with GoldenEye and Casino Royale, and his directorial career also includes entertaining fare like Criminal Law and The Mask of Zorro. 2011’s Green Lantern was viewed as such a failure, though, that he hasn’t directed a feature since. Jackie Chan, meanwhile, has kept extremely busy internationally but hasn’t had a wide release in the U.S. outside of animated films since 2010’s The Karate Kid.

It’s been too long for both of them, but now the pair have come together for The Foreigner, and the result is every bit the success fans could have hoped for.

Quan Ngoc Minh (Chan) works hard, owns a restaurant in London, and does his best to provide for his daughter Fan. An everyday errand to pick up a dress sees her killed alongside a dozen others when a terrorist bomb explodes nearby, and a devastated Quan — a man with a very particular set of skills learned the hard way in Vietnam — turns quietly towards a path of vengeance. A previously unknown faction of the IRA claims responsibility which draws the attention of Deputy Minister Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) who was an IRA member in his youth before serving time, reforming, and bringing the fight into the political arena instead. Hennessy knows more than he’s letting on but also doesn’t know it all, and while he’s handling pressure from the British government he faces an even bigger challenge from a tired old man grieving the loss of his daughter.

Based on Stephen Leather‘s novel, The Chinaman, The Foreigner packs a hefty amount of intrigue, action, and double-crosses into its mid-range budget and nearly two-hour running time. It’s far from a usual Chan film both because he’s only in roughly half of it and because IRA-related plot turns are given equal attention, but the combination works well to deliver intimate thrills and satisfying beats.

Writer David Marconi (Enemy of the State) keeps a smart balance between the two halves ensuring neither thread grows stale, and while both are engaging separately things heat up when they collide. It’s maybe far too easy to identify which member of Hennessy’s crew is involved, but that’s far from the point as more layers are stripped away to reveal blame and motivation galore. Brosnan captures his anger as well as his growing frustration at the loss of control to both his own people and Quan’s determination.

Chan may still be thought of mostly as a “funny” guy, but he’s played these serious roles before, and he’s played them well. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger before him, who recently shifted in a similar direction with Maggie and Aftermath, Chan’s strength with always be as a physical entertainer, but he more than acquits himself here as a man who’s lost everything. There’s a tangible pain in his all but defeated face as he lets go of the past and sets his sights solely on revenge.

Campbell’s years of experience on action films big and small are put to great use here, and along with cinematographer David Tattersall he crafts numerous sequences and set-pieces that highlight Quan’s skills while satisfying Chan fans and action junkies alike. We get a pair of close quarters action scenes that remind of The Bourne Supremacy — but are really what Chan’s been doing for decades — as well as more rural “shechanigans” when Quan pulls a reverse Patriot Games and descends on Hennessy’s IRA-protected stronghold. It’s all well-crafted and smartly-captured to maximize thrills and entertainment.

The supporting cast is solid with memorable turns from the likes of Rory Fleck Byrne, Charlie Murphy (no, not that one), and others. Also worth mentioning is a pretty spectacular score from Cliff Martinez (Drive, The Neon Demon). What it lacks in grandly memorable tracks it more than makes up for in densely propulsive engagement which heightens scenes of suspense and action alike.

The Foreigner doesn’t break the mold, but it never tries to — and doesn’t need to. Campbell and Chan make a formidable team, and while I look forward to following their continued careers apart I’m more excited for their hopeful reunion.

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