With “The Foreigner, “ actor/director/stuntman/Martial arts icon Jackie Chan joins the cinematic ranks of Liam Neeson, Terence Stamp, Michael Caine and others by playing an aging man forced to carry out sweet vengeance and inflict punishing violence. It’s another entry in the Geriatric action/crime sub genre. “The Foreigner” is Chan’s “Taken,” or “The Limey,” and the picture (helmed by “Casino Royal” director Martin Campbell, his first feature film in six years) is a brutal, giddy old school revenge flick.
Things get off to a quick start. Chan plays Quan, an immigrant currently residing in London who watches his daughter Fan (Katie Leung) get killed in a bombing. We learn very quickly that Quan’s past is steeped in devastating tragedy and hardship. Chan spends most of his early scenes paralyzed and shriveled up, resembling a corpse freshly delivered to the morgue. However, Quan’s depression is short lived, as his decision to track down the terrorists responsible and get his own justice seems to reinvigorate him. With an all-consuming rage, Quan loads up a nondescript green van with weapons and supplies (to make even more weapons) and gets to work, channeling his grief into nasty but oh so glorious violence.
It’s an absolute joy to watch Quan creatively torment and stalk his targets with the upmost confidence. Here’s a chap who, after setting off a non lethal improvised explosive in a government building, immediately calls up his target telling them he means business. Chan has a history of playing clownish action heroes but here he’s locked in, relentless and dominant. He’s the seasoned professional who has command of every situation he’s in and the drop on every person he comes into contact with. The scene where Quan goes all John Rambo on a group of heavies (who’ve foolishly underestimated his skills) in a patch of forest is exhilarating and cringe inducing. Lets just say one of those heavies may need a tetanus shot.
The action in “The Foreigner” is non flashy and appropriately brutal. We feel every punch, gunshot and body hit with a wooden plank. Quan accumulates bruises and nasty cuts and occasionally can be seen limping away after a scuffle. He throws himself through windows and down staircases. Campbell infuses the action with a human dimension. Quan is an old man who isn’t immune to injury but he can still dismantle his targets with ease. He takes physical punishment with scrappiness and gracefulness. As a visceral, popcorn revenge flick “The Foreigner” is immensely satisfying.
But there’s more to this story. “The Foreigner” is also a twisty, politically tinged procedural. The bombing is politically motivated and Quan’s primary target is Liam, (Pierce Brosnan) an Irishman who works for the British government and may or may not have connections to the perpetrators. It’s an intriguing narrative that adds some complexity and moral grey area to the people Quan is pursuing without tainting our satisfaction in seeing him carry out his revenge to completion. That being said, the procedural plot can be uneven. It’s not necessarily convoluted but the execution can be downright dopey and even sloppy--especially when double crossings start happening near the end of the second act.
Brosan’s performance doesn't always hold together; some of his major dramatic scenes fall flat and I found his sing songy Irish accent to be distracting. Though he does have his moments, particularly when he’s forced to inflict physical torment of his own. Ultimately, Liam and Quan make for compelling rivals, in regards to their relationship to violence. Both men have a violent past but Liam wants to leave that life behind while Quan embraces it head on. Liam desperately wants to avoid violent confrontations and preserve his cushy life in politics while a lifetime of tragedy has left Quan with nothing but a vehement rage needing to be quenched.
There are other issues; the screenplay by David Marconi (Based on the novel “The Chinaman” by Stephen Leather) can be heavy handed when it comes to the politics surrounding the attack and Quan’s tragic backstory. Furthermore, the dialogue can be flat out terrible at times resulting in unintentional humor. But “The Foreigner” is still a fun melding of political procedural and straightforward, down and dirty revenge, further bolstered by Chan’s ferocious, determined energy. He’s been sorely missed in western cinema these past few years.