I’ve made it known in other reviews that I have a big soft spot for revenge films. I don’t know what it is, but there’s just something about watching someone getting back at the ones who wronged them that just strikes a primal chord with me. I’m also a big fan of martial arts and great fight choreography, so when you have Jackie Chan now involved in a more grounded, serious film, my curiosity is piqued. Unfortunately, the film isn’t about Chan at all. In fact, he’s not even the main character.

The Foreigner follows Ngoc Minh Quan (Jackie Chan), a Vietnam war veteran and immigrant who runs a Chinese restaurant in London. One fateful day, his daughter is killed in a terrorist attack from a group claiming to be the Authentic IRA. Desperate to get revenge on the people who took his daughter, Quan tracks down Irish deputy minister and former IRA member Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) to find out if he has any information. With Hennessy seemingly refusing to help, Quan believes he’s involved in the bombings, and starts bringing the fight to him.

So yeah, this isn’t really a revenge film, but actually a political thriller primarily dealing with the issues surrounding the United Kingdom and the IRA. This is all fine and dandy. I love a good political thriller, but all of the moving pieces need to be interesting on their own, while all coming together at the end. Hennessy is the main character and it’s really all about him. He’s a prominent politician with connections to the IRA, constantly struggling to appease both his old allies in the IRA, and the people he serves in the UK government. There’s a lot of moral ambiguity to his character, especially when you’re trying to figure out if he’s involved in the bombings. Pierce Brosnan is incredible here, completely shedding his suave James Bond persona for a more layered and calculated performance. He starts off acting completely in control, but his attitude slowly degrades as Quan continues his crusade against him.

This is a Jackie Chan movie, though. That’s who we want to see! After the first act establishes Quan as the supposed main character, he hardly even appears throughout the rest. There’s one scene where he truly gets to display his skills, but seems limited during the rest. A lot of his role just consists of sitting in the woods and spying on Hennessy. Since he’s not doing a whole lot of action, Chan at least gets to show how good of an actor he can be. He doesn’t have a lot of dialogue, but he doesn’t need it. He conveys enough just through his eyes and body language. You really believe that this is a truly broken man with nothing to lose, and will do anything to achieve his goal. Even when he’s just sitting in some dirt and staring off into the horizon, he’s excellent.

It’s a shame he wasn’t given more to do with his character. If his character were removed from the film, the general plot wouldn’t be affected much. Not only do we not know much about him due to a shoddily put together backstory, but we never get to learn much about him after the events are set in motion. All we know is that he wants revenge for his daughter’s death. There’s one heartfelt moment where he goes through her belongings, but aside from that, the filmmakers never truly explore the grief he’s going through beyond that. The mystery also makes it hard to truly sympathize, especially when uses terrorist tactics to get what he wants. I understand the point the filmmakers were trying to say in fighting terrorism with terrorism almost always yields negative results, but there’s never time devoted to explore those themes. While the moral ambiguity for Quan is interesting, I wasn’t sure how to exactly feel. I was never really rooting for him, and found it hard to be emotionally invested in his pursuit. I wonder how he would feel if one of his bombs killed someone else’s daughter. The film never really asks that question, though.

I’m not sure what I was supposed to get out of The Foreigner, and I don’t think even the filmmakers were sure either. Aside from the fact that this was a Chinese co-production, it’s questionable why Chan is even in the film at all. If you want an action film featuring lots of martial arts and stunts, you’ll get that in sparse doses. If you want an intricate political thriller, you’ll get that, but all of the pieces don’t come together very well. However, if you want to see two actors primarily known for action flexing their dramatic chops, then it’s worth to check out just for that. While I was never too engrossed in the actual story and characters, this is one of those films where the fantastic performances really elevate the proceedings. Let’s hope this leads to more dramatic roles for Chan and Brosnan, as they clearly have the talent.


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