Movie Review: ‘THE FOREIGNER’ – a very particular set of skills

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Connor Bynum // Film Critic

THE FOREIGNER

Rated R, 114 minutes.
Director: Martin Campbell
Cast: Jackie ChanKatie LeungRufus Jones and Pierce Brosnan

Over the course of his career, Jackie Chan has become a martial arts legend. While his ability to dazzle audiences with countless brilliantly choreographed fight scenes is surely a testament to his legacy, it’s the characters he plays in those scenes that makes his films memorable. This concept could not be more apparent in THE FOREIGNER.

In the film, Chan plays a soft spoken and seemingly harmless Chinese man named Quan, who lives in the UK with his daughter Fan (Katie Leung of HARRY P). Their relationship is genuine and sweet, albeit short lived as Fan falls victim to an IRA terrorist bombing. Having lost the only remaining member of his family, Quan vows to find the ones responsible and bring them to justice no matter how many people get in his way.

Quan’s primary lead on how to get the names of the bombers is a British government official named Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan sporting the Irish-est of Irish accents). Hennessy claims to have no knowledge of who carried out the attack, but Quan refuses to believe Hennessy’s hands are clean. What follows is a brutal film that shows just how far someone will go when they have nothing left to lose.

The story is undoubtedly simplistic and borders on the cliché, yet the film’s saving grace is Chan’s powerfully committed performance. Contrasting his unprecedented ability to sell a fight scene, Chan is never without a sense of subtlety in the way he carries himself. He brings a fascinating combination of sympathy and ferocity to scenes that are often little more than a conversation, showcasing that he is more than just an action star; he’s an actor.

A grieving father (Jackie Chan) and an official (Pierce Brosnan) engage in tests of will in “The Foreigner.” Courtesy of STX Films.

However, in spite of being marketed as the lead of the film, Chan is surprisingly absent for quite a bit of its 114 minute runtime. Brosnan’s Hennessy mostly picks up the slack as he gradually comes to understand the very real threat Quan poses to his family and career. While the film isn’t necessarily bad during those scenes, the tone does become a little inconsistent. Given his amount of screen time, the film begins to feel as though it is about Hennessy rather than Quan. Although Brosnan gives a fine performance throughout, audiences may feel misguided if they come expecting to see more of Chan in the film.

Where the film struggles is in its supporting cast. Having been based off a book, the amount of side characters becomes a little hard to follow as it translates to the screen. Due to the scant amount of time given to these smaller characters, their names as well as allegiances are easily confused and feel as though additional scenes may have been shot but ultimately left out of the finished product. Additionally, viewers without a general understanding of the history of the real world IRA (Irish Republican Army) may leave the theater wondering what all the fuss was about during some of Brosnan’s more dramatic scenes.

Director Martin Campbell (CASINO ROYALE) excels in his ability to capture brutally realistic fight scenes. Rather than embody the fast dance-like choreography of classic martial arts films, Campbell places substance over style in his action scenes making every punch feel hard and heavy. Also giving these scenes lasting appeal is the inclusion of environmental combat, in that the characters on screen use the layout of the scene to craft their fight rather than just punch and kick each other. One scene comes to mind where a fallen tree in the woods is used as a set piece where Quan ducks and dodges around its branches to disorient his enemy.

Were it not for Chan and Brosnan’s performances, THE FOREIGNER would be little more than a forgettable revenge flick. But thanks to its well-rounded cast and highly entertaining action set pieces, audiences are sure to find plenty to enjoy.

Grade: B-

THE FOREIGNER opens nationwide today.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.