I think we can all agree that a parent losing his or her child is typically an awful thing. It’s not the natural order of things—old age would dictate it’s the other way around—and is not something that a parent typically mentally prepares for. Now, consider a character who already lost two children and his wife, and now loses his only remaining daughter—and, in fact, family—in a terrorist bombing. That’s what we’re dealing with in The Foreigner.
That character is Ngoc Minh Quan and is played by Jackie Chan. He’s a former special forces operative who now owns a restaurant in London. His daughter is killed in a bombing by a group claiming to be the “New IRA,” and he makes it his sole quest from then until the end of the film to figure out who was behind the bombing and punish them for their actions—focusing primarily on a government official, Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan), who was a former IRA member and whom Quan believes knows more than he’s letting on.
More of the movie is dedicated to Hennessy’s various political dramas than one might initially expect. This isn’t a Taken scenario in which the plot is simple and exists primarily so our older hero can beat up some bad dudes. There’s a lot of political intrigue, with characters acting to advance their careers or their side’s goals. That makes the plot more complex and in theory more interesting, but even though it’s coated in a lesser-seen paint—that being the conflict between Ireland and Britain—it still feels very familiar. Bad people do bad things for bad reasons, hiding their motives until the film decides to reveal them for maximum drama. We get it.
A bigger issue is the time that this takes away from Quan’s quest. He’s our emotional centerpiece, and we should be sympathetic to his plight, but after the first 30 minutes or so, we don’t spend that much time with him—especially in quiet, reflective moments. He’s too goal-oriented for that. The one moment we get, a dream sequence in which we find out how his previous kids died, is reduced to unnecessary, because we’re told, earlier, how this happened. Pick one or the other, movie; we don’t need both of these scenes to accomplish the same task. It’s overkill.
The Foreigner is a decent but unremarkable action-thriller.
Basically, after the first half an hour, we flip flop between Chan either staging or performing action scenes and Brosnan doing his political stuff. Individually, neither of these is bad. Chan can still handle himself in an action scene, and while they’re more choppily edited and a bit sloppier than we’re used to, he’s in his 60s now—and he’s not performing against skilled action stars, either.
And Brosnan’s scenes are fun, if only because Brosnan chews the scene like a champion. He’s campy and at times probably too over-the-top, but it’s fun. Put these together, though, and you don’t have a cohesive movie. They don’t quite work together, with one taking away from the other instead of building each other up. They’re like two food ingredients that taste good individually but when squished together in a sandwich taste bad.
Jackie Chan delivers what is probably his best North American performance in the first 30 minutes of The Foreigner. He gets to do away with the happy-go-lucky persona he so frequently presents audiences in favor of a brooding, broken, determined man. It’s such a turnaround that you almost wonder why they hired Chan to do it. It’s a welcome surprise, though. If you’ve seen his Chinese films, you know he’s a good dramatic actor. If you haven’t, you’re in for a treat.
The Foreigner is a decent but unremarkable action-thriller, exactly the type of movie you’d expect if you heard it was from the director of the American Edge of Darkness—although not what you’d expect if you heard it was from the director of Casino Royale. It has a couple of noteworthy performances, some okay action, and a complex, although not terribly engaging, plot. It lacks in emotional resonance, and its two characters’ stories don’t quite mesh together to create a cohesive whole. There are worse things to watch than The Foreigner, but there are tons of better things, too.
Conclusion: The Foreigner is too bland to be a great movie.
Recommendation: Watch The Foreigner for Jackie Chan, but wait until it’s on VOD or TV.