Quick and Dirty: For those of you heading to the movies expecting an action/adventure martial arts extravaganza, it’s only fair to warn you right out the gate The Foreigner is a crime thriller. Its action sequences are first rate, harrowing and visually inventive but a drama lies at the heart of this film. This is not how American audiences are used to seeing Jackie Chan and I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised. His performance is gripping and his continued ability to pull off the physical feats asked of him nothing short of impressive.
But, despite having a unique central character, both the plot and its inherent twists mostly rely on genre staples of current action thrillers to set its tone. The Foreigner is an interesting balance of action and drama that tells a good story that could’ve been great if they’d followed through on Chan’s promise.
The Foreigner, based on (loosely) the novel, The Chinaman, by Stephen Leather, stars Jackie Chan as a distraught father pushed to take matters into his own hands after his last remaining daughter becomes one of the victims murdered in a terrorist bombing. He wants to know who killed his daughter and he’s more than willing to meet violence with violence.
Campbell introduces a fascinating character and then immediately decentralizes him in the overall story arc. The story of Quan takes a back seat to the unwieldy mystery swirling around Deputy Minister, Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) and it’s the film’s biggest mistake. Quan’s quest for answers – and his backstory – becomes needlessly convoluted as the rest of the film fails to keep pace with his relentless focus.
Campbell’s pacing decisions work wonderfully for building tension and setting up the key players but then fails at maintaining forward momentum through the second act. I just never cared as much about what was going on when the story shifted away from Quan. Regardless of stellar performances all around, something about the storyline built around Brosnon’s character never really had any depth. Too much hand-holding and not enough action, and I don’t necessarily mean fight scenes. And this is where the book nerd in me wants to scream, stop wasting source material at the screen.
The moments with Jackie Chan on screen are intense and invigorating but the “bigger picture” unfolding around him takes too long to become interesting, wastes too much time on political intrigue and ultimately leads nowhere the audience hasn’t been before. With a few storyline changes and updates – and not just the name – David Marconi’s script brings the novel’s main character, a brutally efficient and highly focused killer, into the modern world of intrigue, power struggles, and terrorism. But that’s where the script and direction fail to capitalize on the character’s rich background to keep the film’s pace from defaulting to unrelieved seriousness.
Quan is an unassuming man just living his life in London with his daughter. His visible anguish at her death only serves to demonstrates Chan’s emotional commitment to the role and fully invest you in his character. This script, unfortunately, doesn’t do nearly enough with him to do this character justice. It takes too long to reveal who the man driven to such extremes really is behind his mild-manner. It doesn’t integrate his storyline into the less than subtle games playing out elsewhere in the film’s timeline. And the directorial choices of how to reveal his tragic and brutally painful backstory are far too passive for the intensity of the events or their significance in the current drama playing out.
I enjoyed The Foreigner a lot, mostly because Jackie Chan was incredible to watch and his portion of the film completely on point, but I would’ve enjoyed the film more if the main character felt less like a vehicle to get the ball rolling and more integral to the overall story being told. I expect it to do well even in its second week because regardless of its shortfalls it’s still better than many recent movies in this genre.
Overall Rating: 3 out of 5
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