Foreigner, The (2017)Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 10/18/17 08:56:52
(Worth A Look)
That "The Foreigner" could likely function almost as well without his title character is either its main weakness or what makes it interesting: It's a fine IRA thriller with a potentially game-changing wild card, and though it does not play that card quite as often as it might, that very fact can sometimes keep the audience off-balance as much as it provides expected thrills.It's been nearly twenty years since the Good Friday Agreement, but as the film opens, a bomb goes off in London, killing 18 and wounding more, with a group calling itself "the Authentic IRA" claiming responsibility. Deputy Minister for Northern Ireland Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) is immediately called away from his young lover Maggie (Charlie Murphy), to try and use his background - he was a member of both the IRA and Sinn Fein in his younger years - but though he professes shock, he also sees an opportunity to pressure cabinet minister Katherine Davies (Lia Williams) on a matter of pardoning fugitives, saying it could help defuse the situation, even as he meets other IRA leaders to demand an inventory of their arms and explosives to find who is supporting this rogue group. As all this is going on, Quan Ngoc Minh (Jackie Chan) - an immigrant who lost his daughter Fan (Katie Leung) in the blast after losing the rest of his family fleeing Vietnam - visits first Richard Bromley (Ray Fearon), the head of the counter-terrorism investigation, and then Hennessy, looking for answers. Certain Hennessey knows more than he's saying, Quan resolves to pressure him in a way the former terrorist can understand.
Though the film opens with a cute scene between Quan and his daughter, and spends a fair amount of time showing his utter devastation upon losing her, the bulk of the film takes place in Belfast, focusing on Hennessy and treating the question of whether he had some part of planning the attack or whether he's just a smart politician who can work a bad situation to his advantage even as he tries to resolve it. The film plays this enjoyably close to the vest while also exploring how, despite the official peace, the situation remains fraught because there are older folks who can't let go and younger people who don't remember just how bad the bad old days were. It's an intriguing plot for a thriller on its own, meaty enough to carry the film.
That part of the movie has an enjoyably blustery performance from Pierce Brosnan at the center, giving us a man whose arrogance has grown enough with age and success to undermine his intelligence, showing the audience how he can be simultaneously be shark-like and complacent. The rest of the Irish continent playing off him is strong as well, from Dermot Crowley as an old IRA comrade who doesn't have quite the same sort of charisma to work with and thus remains a bit more working-class to the women in his life: Orla Brady shows fine steel as Mary Hennessy, an ever-tougher customer as the movie goes on, while Charlie Murphy makes sure there's still a certain youthful naivete to Maggie even when she gets brought deeper into the plot. Rory Fleck Byrne brings in an enjoyably haunted smolder later on, as well as providing the film with someone who can reasonably square off against the Chinese interloper twice his age.
That'd be Quan, whom the filmmakers seldom explicitly note comes from outside the long-running English/Irish conflict and thus can't easily be appealed to on ideological grounds. The script often used him as a sort of brute-force way to force the plot forward - Hennessy's political machinations and methodical investigation can't be drawn out if this guy is executing guerrilla attacks with escalating severity - but having Jackie Chan in the role keeps him from being just a super-capable cipher. Chan turns in what is almost certainly his best English-language performance as a man devastated by the weight of the loss he has seen over the course of his life, making it clear that though this is something he has faced before, it's more than he can bear, something eating away at his soul.
That he doesn't actually fight that much will probably highlight this as one of his best acting jobs for many, but setting the fights aside diminishes just how great he is. Director Martin Campbell gives Chan and his stunt team free reign, and while there's a bit of pulse-quickening excitement for fans in the moments when is clear that Chan is about to do the sort of martial-arts action that made him famous, it's worth watching his face and body language during those fights: He's sad and worn-down for reasons aside from age, showing the character's desperation in how he moves. Quan doesn't really have a lot of people to talk to through much of the film, so his fights, with their skill that seems to burden his soul and little moments where the audience can see him progressively losing his determination to not do permanent damage, serve not just as great exhibits of Hong Kong-style action choreography, but important counterpoints to the young "Authentic IRA" plotters who don't yet understand how soul-crushing this sort of fight is.It's a point that Campbell and the rest of the filmmakers could perhaps have highlighted more, especially knowing that the film would inevitably be presented as being much more about Quan than Hennessy (the film was financed by Chinese companies and Chan is a much bigger star than Brosnan). Fortunately, it's good enough to not just survive but thrive when Chan is off-screen, even as he adds quite a bit when he is around.
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