A slightly odd confluence of factors make Martin Campbell’s The Foreigner a splendid action thriller. The picture reunites James Bond veterans Campbell and Pierce Brosnan, but then throws in a healthy dose of the Northern Irish troubles and a top-of-his-game Jackie Chan for good measure. It has taken me quite a while to get to this 2017 effort, but it well worth tracking down.
An unexpected bombing kills the daughter of Vietnamese restaurateur Ngoc Minh Quan (Chan). When a splinter faction of the IRA claims responsibility, Quan goes looking to Northern Ireland for answers – and face-to-face with Deputy First Minister Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan). While Quan makes use of a growing number of violent tactics to avenge his daughter, Hennessy races against the clock save his former comrades and his career.
For half of the time, The Foreigner is a tense political thriller about Sinn Féin statesmen fighting to stop republican radicals from kickstarting the bloody past IRA terrorism all over again. For the other half it is an old-fashioned one-man-against-an-army revenge thriller, the likes of which have littered popular cinema for decades. The two narratives are nicely intertwined, and make something relatively fresh – and very entertaining – out of their archetypal ingredients.
It is a superb film for Jackie Chan, who really needs to flex his dramatic muscles more often. This is arguably his most grounded role since Shinjuku Incident (2009), and it is the sort of serious, harder fare on which he should be focused.
Brosnan has been going from strength to strength in recent years, ably shaking off his old James Bond persona with apparent ease. He is great here: morally compromised, packed with equal parts regret and rage, and more than willing to get his hands dirty when pushed into a corner. Between the two leads there is a strong, gritty texture to The Foreigner: nobody is entirely evil or noble. Bad people can have a sympathetic edge. Good people can be led to do bad things. A solid supporting cast also deserve praise, in particular both Orla Brady and Charlie Murphy do very decent work in a pair of under-written roles.
Martin Campbell directs it all with a steady hand and a well-developed eye for both action and tension. It is not quite the masterpiece of his Casino Royale, but it does demonstrate a well-honed sense of when to cut, and what to show or hide from the audience. What is particularly nice is that it simply does not feel like a Hollywood production. Everything feels a little too bleak and complicated. Adult-leaning fare like this feels like a scarce resource in the face of franchise blockbusters and shared universes; I mean it’s not – there is plenty of decent non-toyetic filmmaking going on every week – but it rarely gets the spotlight that it deserves. The Foreigner is smart, fast-paced, and satisfying entertainment.