October 16, 2017
By the time I came of age, the era of Jackie Chan had all since passed, as his strictly straightforward kung-fu films were relics of the past, while his newer meta work in the Rush Hour series didn’t do very much to impress me as a child. Still, there was always an iconic nature about the Chinese actor I couldn’t shake, even if he didn’t show up too much in my life. Pierce Brosnan, on the other hand, was my first, and easily most memorable, James Bond. Before Daniel Craig took the reins as a darker, far more serious Bond, Brosnan was the actor who introduced me to the illustrious world of 007 in Goldeneye, arguably one of the finest action films of the 1990s. Now, the two take hold in The Foreigner, a film that should be pulpy from the sheer idea of the two actors pairing up, but ends up being a far more thrilling, sophisticated political thriller.
When a bomb attack in London kills his only daughter, Quan Ngoc Minh (Chan) begins to search for the terrorists responsible for her death. Making his way through multiple government agencies demanding information, Quan comes across Liam Hennessy (Brosnan), a British government official and former IRA agent. With the bombing being labeled as an attack from an offshoot of the IRA, Quan, believing Hennessy was in on the attack, begins to make his life a living hell until he gives him the names of the bombers. All the while, Hennessy, uninvolved, must scramble to procure the names before Quan takes everything from him.
The Foreigner has a pretty standard setup, and could’ve easily turned into something far more rote and cliché than it is. In fact, the film poses an interesting proposition for the audience to ponder. Do we support the innocent man who has lost everything, who is going about redemption in all the worst ways, or do we support the seedy, immoral bureaucrat not tied to the bombing? The Foreigner doesn’t have a clear protagonist/antagonist line, and the film does have you leaning back-and-forth between who you root for with each twist and turn it throws at you.
While Chan has the top billing in the film, and delivers his best performance to date as Quan, Brosnan is the real star of this film. In recent years, Brosnan has been in some less-than-savory films, and I actually expected The Foreigner to be yet another one of those films, as the trailer doesn’t actually do much to inspire here. Brosnan’s fiery performance as Hennessy is his best performance since The Ghost Writer in 2010. This is a deep, unsettling performance that utilizes the best that Brosnan has to offer as an actor. He’s an intimidating force, but one that can convey his character’s demons in only a single gaze. Brosnan seems to have a very intimate grasp on his character and somehow brings what should be a Chan vehicle down to his own level.
Directed by Martin Campbell, two-time resurrector of the Bond series with both Goldeneye and Casino Royale (the best Bond film to date, in my opinion) under his belt, this is a far more sophisticated film than one might come to expect from a revenge thriller. Campbell has a real way of balancing thrilling action with equally as thrilling dialogue scenes. My favorite scenes in Casino Royale were not the action sequences, but rather the scenes sat around a poker table, engaged in tense banter. In The Foreigner, my favorite scenes again were not the action sequences, but rather the political dialogue between the characters during their investigations. Like any good director, Campbell knows how to make a film look pretty, but to make simple scenes of dialogue as engaging as the major action sequences makes for a very special director with a unique talent behind the camera.
The Foreigner is also topped off by a wonderful score from Cliff Martinez. Evoking a Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross and Max Richter vibe in his work, along with Martinez’s own unique style as seen in other films he’s scored. We have a unique score that meshes the music of a typical action film with that of a political thriller in a hybrid sound that really plays to the film’s advantage.
Are some things far-fetched? Sure. Is it still a little pulpy? Perhaps. Still, The Foreigner is a wonderfully engaging little political thriller that offers up so much more than its trailer might imply. This is a sophisticated, attractive, well-acted, intriguing film that utilizes the best that Campbell, Chan and especially Brosnan have to offer. It’s not the Chan ass-kicking vehicle that some viewers might hope for, but if you look past your expectations, you’ll actually find something better waiting for you on the other side.
Star Rating: 4 out of 5