Jackie Chan is back, and he’s taking on Pierce Brosnan in today’s thriller, THE FOREIGNER (2017).
Quan Ngoc Minh (Jackie Chan) is a quiet store owner living in London whose world is shattered when his daughter is killed in a terrorist bomb attack. He seeks out answers, demanding to know who killed his daughter. A group identifying itself as a new faction of the IRA claims responsibility for the London blast, and so Quan’s search leads him to Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan), a former officer in the IRA who’s now working for the British government.
Quan isn’t the only one demanding answers. The British government wants them, too, and Hennessy promises to find them. He assembles a group of his IRA contacts and puts them on notice with his suspicions that someone in their circle is part of this new faction.
When Quan shows up at Hennessy’s doorstep looking for the names of the bombers, Hennessy tells him he doesn’t know who is responsible and quickly dismisses his visitor without a second thought. But Quan is relentless, and soon he is bombing Hennessy’s home and threatening his family unless he is given the names of the terrorists.
Hennessy’s search for the terrorists leads to some unexpected answers, while his efforts to apprehend Quan, who is a former special forces soldier, repeatedly fail.
THE FOREIGNER tells two different stories, and as such, at times seems like two different movies.
The emotional story is Quan’s, as he vows that nothing is going to stop him from finding the people responsible for his daughter’s death.
Quan Ngoc Minh is a serious somber role for Jackie Chan, and it’s not the usual lighthearted fun action role that Chan generally plays. Quan is an older, more reflective character who goes all in to avenge his daughter’s death. Chan doesn’t play the character as unhinged but as extremely determined and focused. He somehow manages to keep Quan a sympathetic character throughout, even when he is blowing up Hennessy’s property. It’s an impressive performance.
But while Quan’s story is emotional, it’s also just a simple revenge tale, and as such, is far less interesting than the more intriguing story of Hennessy’s investigation into his IRA contacts.
As Liam Hennessy, the former IRA officer who’s now in the difficult position of siding with the British government, Pierce Brosnan delivers a solid performance, showing grit, determination, and eventually despair. That’s because the deeper Hennessy digs, the more his world unravels.
Hennessy has the double whammy of learning some unsavory things about both his IRA connections and people very close to him, while being unable to fend off Quan who is hiding in the woods outside his home and is constantly attacking him. The scenes where Hennessy expresses frustration and disbelief that his trained security detail cannot handle Quan are some of Brosnan’s best.
Both the IRA storyline and Quan’s vengeance story are dark, grim tales, but there is a disconnect between the two that prevents this movie from really taking off. The two stories never really come together in a satisfying way.
One reason is that they are so different. Quan’s revenge tale is right out of an old Charles Bronson movie, while Hennessy’s investigation into the depths of the IRA is more akin to a political suspense thriller. They don’t mesh all that well, and the biggest reason for this is the film’s climax. For Quan, there’s only one solution, and in this movie just like in those Charles Bronson movies, whether or not he achieves it is never really in question, and for Hennessy, the answers he finds have less to do with what Quan wants to know and more to do with his own past. And so their two stories aren’t exactly on a collision course with each other. They connect, but only long enough to send each of them on their merry ways.
If you like Jackie Chan action scenes, you won’t be disappointed. Director Martin Campbell does a nice job with them, and they were probably my favorite part of the movie. My only beef is that there weren’t enough of them.
The Hennessy scenes are taut and intriguing. The investigation into who is behind the bombings is compelling and hard-hitting.
Director Campbell is no stranger to action thrillers. He’s directed two James Bond movies, GOLDENEYE (1995) the first Pierce Brosnan Bond movie, and CASINO ROYALE (2006), the first Daniel Craig Bond movie. Both films are excellent. Campbell also directed GREEN LANTERN (2011), which was not so excellent.
David Marconi wrote the screenplay, based on the novel “The Chinaman” by Stephen Leather. It’s an okay screenplay. It has believable characters and tells two compelling stories, even if they don’t mix together all that well. Marconi also wrote the screenplay for LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (2007).
Chan and Brosnan are helped by a solid supporting cast. Michael McElhatton from TV’s GAME OF THRONES (2012-2016) plays Hennessy’s loyal right hand man, Jim, while Dermot Crowley from TV’s LUTHER (2010-2015) plays Hugh McGrath, one of Hennessy’s IRA brothers who may have his own agenda.
Charlie Murphy plays Maggie, a woman who Hennessy is having an affair with, and Orla Brady plays his wife Mary, who has her own issues with her husband.
And Rory Fleck Byrne is very good as Hennessy’s nephew Sean, a tracker and an assassin, who Hennessy eventually employs to find and take out Quan.
But the two best performances in THE FOREIGNER belong to the two leads, Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan. Chan is excellent in a far more somber and serious role than he usually plays, and Brosnan is just as good as the increasingly beleaguered Hennessy whose world is under constant threat.
THE FOREIGNER is a decent thriller featuring two veteran actors. Its two separate stories don’t always gel, but the acting, directing, and writing are strong enough to make THE FOREIGNER an enjoyable action movie.
Books by Michael Arruda:
TIME FRAME, science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.
FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.