THE FOREIGNER: Dramatic Chops

Jackie Chan & Pierce Brosnan Square Off, Audiences Win

Having missed The Foreigner in theaters despite it being wholly my jam, I watched it on home video with muted expectations after its cool critical reception. This must have been an ideal frame of mind because I adored The Foreigner.

Us action fans owe so very much to Liam Neeson’s Taken. It’s honestly not all that great of a movie (don’t get me wrong, it’s fun enough and I enjoy it), but the box office phenomenon that it became laid the groundwork for this remarkable subgenre of action cinema affectionately known as Dad Action. Today, the market is filled with projects that take some elements of the Taken formula and run with them. And my sense is that those projects have continued to do well, so we will keep seeing more of them. The formula mostly involves an aging movie star getting to flex his muscles as a badass. He’s probably defending his family or avenging them. He probably has a set of skills that aren’t readily apparent and which cause his opponents to underestimate him. The film will likely have an emotional core in the sense that our hero has been trying to outrun a brutal past or is a shell of the person they once were because of the losses of their past, but this new situation gives them a chance at either redemption or a final dignified act. Not only were there 3 Taken films, but Neeson has gone on to make half a dozen films in the Taken mold. Kevin Costner has become a full on Dad Action headliner. Mel Gibson has a couple of Dad Action titles under his belt (one of which is directed by none other than Martin Campbell of The Foreigner). The Equalizer? Dad Action.

The Foreigner is an excellent political thriller in its own right that happens to not only be a Dad Action entry par excellence, but also brings us both Jackie Chan AND Pierce Brosnan squaring off against one another, making space for two Dad Action leads in one movie. Their characters both fit the mold, each having a violent past which they’ve mostly buried, trying to live new lives. But their pasts will rear their heads in big ways as Chan’s Quan and Brosnan’s Liam Hennessy lock horns. Quan’s a humble London restaurant owner who loses his only daughter in a terrorist bombing. Hennessy is the political leader of the now peaceful and recognized by the British government IRA. When Quan, broken at the loss of his only remaining family member, demands the names of the bombers from Hennessy, he becomes a part of a much larger political situation that’s labyrinthine and morally complex.

I don’t envy those who had to market this film to wide audiences. The trailer that ultimately sold the film was indeed misleading and sells a full-on Taken-style Dad Action title featuring Jackie Chan, front and center, using his special set of skills. All that stuff is in the movie. And it’s glorious, stripped down, classic Jackie Chan kind of stuff (sans his normal sense of humor). But Pierce Brosnan and his network of soldiers and politicians and (possible) terrorist operatives do largely dominate the screen time. It was probably just easier to sell a Taken knock-off to mass audiences, and it probably worked to get people into theaters. They just didn’t get what they expected.

But that’s all marketing and has little to do with the film that Goldeneye and Casino Royale director Martin Campbell crafted here. Adapted by David Marconi from the novel The Chinaman by Stephen Leather, The Foreigner appears to be a movie that knew it was a dense political thriller, set out to tell a somewhat sprawling story, and succeeded wildly.

The beauty of Jackie Chan’s Quan is that he’s the beating heart of an otherwise senseless political wrangling game that has long lost touch with the causes and struggles of everyday people. Hennessy has morphed from political idealist and freedom fighter to connected and established statesman, negotiating and wrangling for power. There are younger soldiers in his movement who are willing to go rogue and provoke violence. There are older soldiers who are wearied and only want peace. At times you feel for Hennessy and the complexities of the long struggles between the Irish people and the British. This is a simmering and unresolved detente even today. He’s a complex man. Quan is too, and he is the titular character here. But Quan’s arc is less complicated. He’s broken and hurting and he’s seeking revenge for the death of his daughter. He is trained and experienced in the art of war, but he’s long buried that part of his life. Chan has grown into a fantastic actor on top of his mind blowing physical abilities and charisma. You really feel for Quan here, and while this movie isn’t exactly “fun”, the most fun you do have is seeing how much the Irishmen and Brits playing their own political game are thrown for a loop by this foreigner coming onto their chessboard and literally demolishing them from within. Quan is a wild card, and there’s some interesting explorations of our (white) willingness to ignore and underestimate those who don’t speak our language as their first language, or who don’t fit into our plans. Jacques Audiard’s excellent Dheepan explores very similar territory.

The Foreigner is just an excellent couple of hours of entertainment, pure and simple. There are thrills and drama, ideas and political positioning. There are compelling actors, brutal consequences, human emotions, and killer set pieces. It’s not as slick and cleanly satisfying as something like Taken, but it’s a much better film overall because it infuses real drama, stakes, and consequences into the Dad Action formula.

The Package

I loved The Foreigner and truly loving a Jackie Chan film in 2017 was a special thing for me. It looks great here on Blu-ray, and this release has a few special features that I’ll list below. Those who slept on this film hearing mixed reviews should consider checking it out with expectations of a simple Jackie Chan actioner thrown out the window. It’s possible that an HD rental will suffice for anyone curious to check it out, but I’m personally excited to own the film as one of Jackie Chan’s top-tier English language titles.

  • The Making of The Foreigner
  • Interviews with Martin Campbell, Jackie Chan, and Pierce Brosnan
  • Trailer #1 & #2

And I’m Out.

The Foreigner is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and On Demand from STXfilms and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

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