ReelBob: ‘The Foreigner’ ★★★
By Bob Bloom
I have said on several occasions that, with his athleticism and agility, Jackie Chan is the equivalent of a modern-day Buster Keaton.
And Chan has proven that point time after time in the lighthearted action-thrillers and comedies in which he has appeared for decades.
But, another Chan also inhabits that body — the actor, oftentimes overlooked and overlapped by his acrobatics.
In the past several years, we in the West have mostly seen the comedic Chan in the “Rush Hour” movies with Chris Tucker and the “Shanghai” movies with Owen Wilson.
That actor Chan makes a welcome return in “The Foreigner,” a no-nonsense, intense, revenge thriller in which Chan grimly does dark.
In “The Foreigner,” Chan plays Quan, owner of a Chinese restaurant in contemporary London, whose daughter is killed in an IRA terrorist bombing at a bank next to a boutique where she was shopping.
Her death comes years after a tragedy in which Quan lost his wife and another daughter to violence.
Quan’s grief is inconsolable. All he wants is the names of the perpetrators, which anti-terrorist British officials cannot provide him because they do not know themselves.
He turns to Liam Hennessy, a former IRA leader and now a British government official in Belfast, charged with maintaining the fragile peace in Northern Ireland.
Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) offers Quan sympathetic bromides about his loss, but also refuses to help Quan gain the justice he believes he is owed.
Quan then begins a one-man campaign of intimidation to force Hennessy into action.
It turns out that Quan has a secret past that makes him quite capable of battling Hennessy and his cohorts on their own terms.
The physicality of Chan’s performance is quite interesting. Throughout, he shuffles around like an old grandfather, which causes those with whom he comes in contact to underestimate him.
He is quiet and polite, nearly subservient, but underneath bubbles an anger that cannot be quelled.
And Chan allows us to see this seemingly contradiction in Quan.
But, like Liam Neeson in “The Taken” movies, Quan has skills that he uses to force the hands of those he believes are impeding justice.
To be fair, director Martin Campbell does stretch credulity at times. Quan is supposedly 61 years old, yet he bests many men who are much younger. Admittedly, he uses guile and cunning at times, but many sequences showcase Chan using his martial-arts skills.
I guess those talents are like riding a bike — even if you have not used them for years, you can still jump back in the seat.
The various IRA subplots that pepper the film are a bit of a distraction, but the movie perks up whenever Chan is on the screen.
Campbell does not shy away from an anti-Asian racism that permeates the movie. Hennessy and his minions continually misjudge and condescend to Quan, simply because he is, in their eyes, a harmless “Chinaman.” Unfortunately, it is too late before they learn the error of their miscalculation.
“The Foreigner” is a somber and violent feature that shows the deadly consequences of violent extremism.
The finale may be a bit Hollywood-ized, but it can be forgiven its minor concessions to box office.
“The Foreigner” belongs to Chan, and he makes the most of this opportunity to show that he can weep as well as he grins.
I am a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. My reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). I also review Blu-rays and DVDs. I can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Links to my reviews can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.
3 stars out of 4
(R), graphic violence, language, sexual content