Arts & Style

The Foreigner packs action, fails to create strong emotional center

The Foreigner, directed by Martin Campbell and co-produced by superstar Jackie Chan, is an appropriately brutal film that is infused with the same martial arts ultra-violence as film franchises such as Taken and John Wick. However, it lacks the momentum necessary to deliver a meaningful conclusion like its predecessors.

The movie is set in the not-too-distant future of a terror-stricken London. An unexpected car bombing leaves scores dead, and dozens more wounded.

One innocent bystander loses everything after the untimely death of his last living daughter, and plunges into a bitter depression. This man, Ngoc Minh Quan, also happens to be a retired Vietnam War super soldier who fights like Chan, although he shows his battle scars more than his age. He quickly develops an obsessive pursuit of exacting vigilante justice on those who masterminded the heinous crime. Never mind that the terrorists behind the attack, a group called the Authentic IRA, are recruits a stone’s throw away from his late daughter’s age.

The bombers call themselves the Authentic IRA, but while the government and military race to identify these new terrorists, most filmgoers will reflexively go on their phones to figure out who the regular IRA were. Despite the present-day issues it addresses, the plot’s main disconnect stems from how dated it feels.

Enmeshing fictional terrorists into world history is all well and good, but when the press is jumping to the conclusion that Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State group are responsible, digging up the past for the sake of legitimacy will not establish the stakes any more effectively.

As an unnecessary parallel to Chan’s personal vendetta, the cumbersome segments of detective work by the international community to track down and terminate the Authentic IRA ultimately robs its biggest stars of screen time.

Unfortunately, this film overindulges in its own detective work when the majority would rather watch Chan turn somebody into a human slinky.

On the other side of this fictional conflict, Pierce Brosnan plays Liam Hennessy, the Irish deputy minister whose ties to the IRA force him into a charade of tracking down the missing Semtex used in the bombing.

In reality, this first attack was intended, but its casualties unprecedented the Authentic IRA, operating as a quasi-sleeper cell, has slipped from Hennessy’s control, and someone within the IRA is using the group for their own nefarious purposes. Although Brosnan delivers in this role, his character does not.

The Foreigner throws in the standard triple-double-cross to ensure its plot has a pulse, but routinely sidelines Chan to achieve this end.

Every time the martial artist is on screen makes it worthwhile to sit through the film, but audiences will most likely leave wishing they had seen more of Quan’s story altogether. This does not mean that his backstory should have been expanded upon.

The decision to jump right into the shattering before-and-after effect of a bombing contributes greatly to the film’s atmosphere without getting into the thick of exposition.

In fact, because The Foreigner is riding off this wave of vindicating hit men going to town on anonymous bad guys, it is correct to assume that the audience could not care less who this former killer was in a past life, so long as he ends the current lives of clearly labeled villains. Returning to the Authentic IRA, the fact that they are a faceless entity cannot save the group from having to share screen time either.

Only the femme fatale manages to do her role any justice, tasked with planting one of the subsequent bombs, and being the only recognizable face of the generic gang.

Their motives are rarely explored outside of the mindless loyalty expected of such equally minded violence, and are always divulged with the boring monotone of a Google translation.

Above all, the problems with The Foreigner’s storyline is the question of what lies next in store for the vindicated hero. The ending does not set itself up for a sequel in any way, instead opting to reflect on Quan’s revenge, even gaining an emotional upper hand in this regard by questioning its own motives.

The only grounded character of the film, one of Quan’s restaurant workers, marks an important threshold that concludes the overarching storyline.

The distance traveled and the lives destroyed in the wake of Quan’s destructive path do little to justify his means, and the hollow nature of revenge rings true.

By no coincidence, Quan characterizes the ancient Confucian saying: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves,” and his unnervingly blank stare remains an insignia of his grief.   

The Foreigner is able to jump through as many hoops as Chan is willing to do in one take, but otherwise falls shorts when the camera shifts to the other, poorly developed characters and plot lines.

This is not a hit out of the ballpark by any means, but rather a self-aware movie that caters to the current action movie trends with enough familiar faces to justify the price of admission.

October 30, 2017

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Charles Tabasso

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