You know who I’ve never seen in a serious role? Jackie Chan.
He’s been in countless films, yet every one that comes to mind is upbeat and light-hearted. I’ve heard Chan’s done a few dramatic films here and there, but I can guarantee none are like his most recent political drama, the Foreigner.
Based on the book the Chinaman by Stephen Leather, the film follows Ngoc Minh Quan (Jackie Chan), a special forces veteran whose only daughter is killed in a horrible terrorist bombing. Fueled by his desire for retribution, Quan’s search for answers leads him to Irish government official Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) who may hold the key to understanding the attack. Much to Quan’s chagrin, Hennessy is reluctant to reveal any information on the terrorists, possibly because of the terrorist’s links to Irish nationalism. What ensues is a deadly game of cat-and-mouse between Quan and Hennessy, as Quan presses him for answers and accountability for the unspeakable crimes.
The Foreigner doesn’t have the levity of a buddy-cop drama like Rush Hour. It grapples with all too familiar themes of terrorism, loss of loved ones to said terrorism, and suspicious political intentions.
To my disappointment, the story gives too much focus on the character of Pierce Brosnan, and all the diplomatic and shady political motives behind the acts of Irish terrorism. Not a bad idea, except it’s carried out in such a disjointed and needlessly complex way. We get wrapped up in a plot with too many characters and not enough screen time to really understand their motives, and Brosnan is at the heart of it all.
The Foreigner would’ve honestly been a more well-rounded movie without the foreigner himself, Jackie Chan. Often Chan felt more like a footnote to a political drama than being the central character trying to take revenge.
It’s a real shame too, as we have this perfectly fine story of a grieving father going rogue, doing everything in his power to extract revenge and get answers. Committing his own acts of self-justified terrorism that would make even John Rambo proud. It’s a concept that’s been done several times before, but a more dramatic take with Chan at the helm is one I don’t mind seeing again. However, when the story tries to juggle between two separate plots in under two hours, we’re left with an uneven and tonally inconsistent film.
Jackie Chan plays the part of a defeated yet determined man quite proficiently, delivering a nice and convincing performance. He spends most of the film stone-faced and quiet as a mouse, but you can feel the anger and malice hidden just beneath the surface. As a small Asian immigrant, his enemies underestimate his perseverance to get what he wants. But Jackie Chan isn’t messing around.
The action is rather subdued and infrequent, but when we got it in small doses it was very satisfying. The climax was particularly energetic and engrossing, a great payoff to an almost unbearable amount of buildup. Quite possibly because the film never felt much like a mystery, although sometimes intended to be one.
Despite the Foreigner’s confused tone and muddled story, there’s a certain level of appeal to the film that I admire. Jackie Chan is a likable actor and has a talent for playing the outgunned underdog. The premise is interesting and had a lot of potential to be a successful political drama or action/revenge movie. It’s when your movie can’t choose between the two that you start to have problems.
Thankfully the raw acting talents of Chan and Brosnan held the Foreigner together like glue, and we the audience reaped the benefits.
The Verdict: C