Review: The Foreigner
By Claire Pak
It’s a bit of a shame that Jackie Chan is mostly known for (and typecast into) comedy roles in English-speaking countries, when he has a very decent repertoire of dramatic roles under his belt. In The Foreigner, he plays an old, tired man with deep wrinkles and sunken eyes, his face acquiring a variety of bruises and scars over the course of the movie. For someone whose career seems entrenched in action, his most effective scenes in the movie are moments of stillness, like when he grieves silently in his dead daughter’s room or sits patiently at the police station for hours at a time to talk to authorities about the terrorist bombing that took her life away.
But of course, this is still an action-thriller film, so things quickly escalate.
The film’s plot is somewhat convoluted, filled with backstabbing and political maneuvering. It’s a little tricky politically too, given that it is built around a bombing claimed by the “Authentic IRA”, an offshoot of the real-world Irish Republic Army. But what grounds the film in what otherwise might have been a mess is the back-and-forth between Chan's Quan and Pierce Brosnan’s Liam Hennessey, who both give strong, entertaining performances. Chan nails Quan’s single-minded determination to avenge his daughter, but even with a perpetually solemn expression he’s able to inject the dialogue with moments of levity here and there. Brosnan’s character mostly exists on a spectrum of annoyance, fear and anger, but he seems to be having fun with the material he's given (though his Irish accent sounds a little funky at places - ironic, since he is actually Irish). It’s a fun (if bloody) time watching Liam become steadily more exasperated at his organization’s inability to kill off this one-man army who is almost supernaturally driven to find out the names of the bombers.
The action scenes themselves are usually shot in tight, borderline claustrophobic spaces, in which the physical presence of the enemies surrounding Quan lend a real sense of danger, especially since Quan does get beaten up quite a bit. Jackie Chan’s long-established martial arts skills give a lot of physicality and energy to his stunts, although the editing sometimes doesn’t match up quite right with the rhythms of his punches and kicks. When the action does move to the open, Quan starts using Kevin McCallister-esque tricks that manage to be both inventive and terrifying in how the ordinary turns into almost deadly, often gorey traps. At the same time, and rather uncharacteristically for the genre, Quan doesn’t go on a murder spree. In fact, despite the large quantities of relatively realistic violence, the end body count created by the protagonist is rather low. Character elements like these give the taciturn protagonist humanity, in a film that otherwise is cold and cynical.
The Foreigner feels like it could be several films stitched together. On one hand, it’s a gritty, bloody revenge story. But it is also a political thriller, with subtle commentary on the ethical boundaries of police work and anxiety about Asian immigrants. There are scenes of graphic violence and largely undiscussed moral ambiguity (Quan is constantly derided as “Chinaman”, and there’s a brief but uncomfortable scene where the police torture a woman, the ethics of which are not commented on), then almost self-aware, tone-swinging moments of gleeful absurdity. By no means is it a perfect film. But if you have time to kill or a lazy afternoon, and you want something appropriately violent to fill up your time, then there are definitely worse picks.