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"The Foreigner (2017)" Review: Snake in the Grass

Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.

One of many theatrical one-sheet posters for "The Foreigner."

One of many theatrical one-sheet posters for "The Foreigner."

Which End of the Snake Would You Grab?

Based on the 1992 thriller novel The Chinaman by Stephen Leather, The Foreigner is the first film Martin Campbell has directed since Green Lantern back in 2011. In London, Ngoc Minh Quan (Jackie Chan) is the manager at a Chinese restaurant. Quan’s daughter is killed in a department store bombing by a group claiming to be the Authentic IRA. Quan seeks revenge; his hidden Vietnam War experience as a Special Forces operator turns a helpless restaurant owner into an unstoppable juggernaut. Quan targets Irish deputy minister Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) in an effort to get the names of his daughter’s attackers since Hennessy has made it publicly known that he is a former leader of the IRA. As Hennessy continues to deny his involvement with these new terrorists, Quan probes deeper, making Hennessy’s life a living hell since retribution is the only family he has left.

It’s unusual to see Jackie Chan in an R-rated film. Legend of Drunken Master had the adult-oriented MPAA rating slapped onto it for violence as did Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle 20 years later; two films that likely received the short end of the stick in that regard. Rumble in the Bronx, Chan’s breakthrough film in America, was rated R but in the past decade only two of Chan’s films have been R-rated: 1911 and Shinjuku Incident. An even rarer occurrence is seeing Chan handle guns in his films. It seems as though Chan has purposely avoided harsher ratings to not only appeal to family audiences, but also because of the disaster that was The Protector (the only time Chan used the F-word on screen). Edgier films would have to have dignity, not tarnish the legacy Chan has built for himself over the course of a 55-year career in cinema, and be worth Chan taking a risk to step away from the slapstick heavy and often kid-oriented material he’s known for. The Foreigner is the reinvigorated push the second half of Jackie Chan’s career needed to prove he still has something to offer for fans old and new.

The Foreigner does for Jackie Chan what JCVD did for Jean Claude Van Damme and what Taken did for Liam Neeson. The action thriller leaves the door open for a sequel and potential franchise with the revenge aspect still fully intact. As a father and restaurant owner, Chan is quiet as Ngoc Minh Quan. He is cordial, humble, and has a slight waddle in his step as he walks down the street. Quan is underestimated due to his maturely, grizzled appearance and “Chinaman” status in London. He’s considered as a normal guy who sells noodles, but once Quan starts loading that van up with duffel bags you know there’s something more to him. There’s shades of Breaking Bad and Walter White in Quan as he manufactures bombs out of common household items; he even MacGyver’s an explosive out of common groceries in a bathroom stall.

Pierce Brosnan has an intriguing performance, as well. Liam Hennessy has a villainous nature without being the actual villain of the film; Hennessy is like the middle man whose strings are being pulled to make it seem as though he’s behind everything. Brosnan’s anger reaches nuclear levels and combined with his naturally abrasive Irish accent makes the character even more mesmerizing. Jackie Chan’s performance is more subdued and withdrawn. Quan sticks to the task at hand, is soft spoken when he does speak, but lets his actions speak for him. Brosnan’s Hennessy has more of a mouth in comparison and the fact that he’s out in the public eye so often makes that an issue.

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Jackie Chan as Ngoc Minh Quan in "The Foreigner."

Jackie Chan as Ngoc Minh Quan in "The Foreigner."

While the performances of Brosnan and Chan are spectacular and you probably never thought you’d see the day a Jackie Chan political thriller would be worth your time, The Foreigner still makes a few missteps. The rest of the cast is mostly forgettable. Rory Fleck Byrne portrays Sean Morrison, the nephew of Brosnan’s Liam Hennessy who is a tracker, did some tours in Iraq, and is also Special Forces; Sean is essentially the younger equal of Jackie Chan’s Quan. But other than the risqué turn Sean’s side story swerves down upon the character lacks any sort of development and could be considered glorified filler. Meanwhile someone like Dermot Crowley seems to only be around because he knows how to scream his lines convincingly as his character is beaten to a bloody pulp.

The score, which is composed by Cliff Martinez (Drive, The Neon Demon), has this digital influence that sounds like it was ripped from an 8-bit video game system, but while it is entertaining on its own it doesn’t seem to fit the film at all. Funky retro beats don’t really highlight the most thrilling sequences in The Foreigner properly. Martinez is a fantastic composer, but what he came up with for The Foreigner is difficult to swallow while viewing the film and doesn't mesh well with the events that unfold onscreen.

Jackie Chan's Ngoc Minh Quan knows how to handle himself in "The Foreigner."

Jackie Chan's Ngoc Minh Quan knows how to handle himself in "The Foreigner."

Jackie Chan turned 63 this year and viewing his recent films that either showcased a more dramatic side of the Hong Kong superstar or had the seasoned action star relying on wires to sustain the frantic pace Chan has become notorious for made something like The Foreigner seem like an impossible pipe dream. But Jackie Chan practically reinvents himself this late in the game to reveal this intensity that no one could have predicted. Jackie Chan manages to offer a glimpse at his former glory in The Foreigner while unleashing an intricately performed fury that no one knew he was capable of.

© 2017 Chris Sawin


Mark Rose on October 16, 2017:

"Brosnan’s anger reaches nuclear levels and combined with his very convincing Irish accent." An Irishman with a convincing Irish accent!?

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