This intense, watchable revenge thriller has a curious title, considering that its central character played by Jackie Chan is supposed to have been a British citizen for, oh, about 20 or 30 years.
Nor is the blood-soaked path he treads unfamiliar territory for him, given the … particular set of skills that he demonstrates.
And even when he does venture into new places, he seems to know the layout like the back of his hand.
Foreigner? Maybe only insofar as “locals” everywhere tend to term people “not like us” as such.
In that sense, the title change from the source novel by Stephen Leather could be seen as almost profound.
Then again, The Foreigner also sounds more politically correct than the book title – The Chinaman.
Quan (Chan) has a chequered past, but as the film starts we see him living a peaceful life as a London restaurateur worrying about his young daughter growing up all too fast.
That changes when she dies in a bomb blast set by Irish terrorists.
The devastated Quan – this is just the latest in a series of violent tragedies in his hard life – eventually grows impatient waiting for the wheels of justice to turn, and sets out on his own path of revenge.
This takes him to Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan), a former resistance fighter to British rule himself “back in the day”.
Clearly, Hennessy knows more than he is letting on – which is where Quan’s skill set comes in handy as he makes monkeys out of the politician’s security detail.
The Foreigner has several parallel storylines that inevitably converge – even the ones you think are extraneous – and the steady hand of veteran director Martin Campbell (GoldenEye, Casino Royale) keeps them easy enough to follow without losing sight of an important plot thread here and there.
Chan, now in his 60s, still appears to be doing a good number of his own stunts (perhaps the most impressive one is singing the title song A Common Man, heh) though the toll of his exertions shows a lot more clearly now.
Aside from two cool scenes where he goes all John Rambo on pursuers in a forest, he is actually more effective as a grieving but also somewhat numbed figure, humbly beseeching (really – he’s so humble it almost hurts) first the British authorities and then Hennessy to come clean about his daughter’s killers.
Ex-007 Brosnan, leaving his “man of action” image far behind to become someone more accustomed to barking orders and growling threats to his inner circle, does a decent enough job even if his role mostly consists of reacting to varying amounts of crap hitting the fan.
When their characters meet, though, the intensity seems toned down somewhat from its levels in their individual scenes – most likely, because neither man is sufficiently far apart from the other on the good-to-evil/light-to-dark spectrum for the viewer to be really invested in their antagonism.
Maybe all this multiple-shades-of-grey layering is necessary, to remind us that this is not some 1980s/90s throwback (as if Cliff Martinez’s synthesiser-heavy score doesn’t permanently maroon us in that era) given the very familiar ground that it covers.
Oh, for the days when heroes were heroes and villains were slimeballs deserving of a grenade down the pants.
Director: Martin Campbell
Cast: Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan, Charlie Murphy, Michael McElhatton, Orla Brady, Dermot Crowley, Tao Liu