Movie Review: The Foreigner
Director: Martin Campbell
by Jason Koenigsberg
Action stars seem to be a thing of the past. These days movies rely on a CGI character in a bright costume to serve as an action hero. In the past it was genuine actors that defined movie machismo like Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Sylvester Stallone. Today that concept is like a relic from a former era. Any action movie fans looking to relive the 90’s will enjoy The Foreigner, a good old fashioned revenge flick that never skimps on character. A throwback to a time not so long ago when R-rated tough guy action movies starring Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan headlining their own picture was commonplace.
The Foreigner opens up with a birds eye view of an empty street and soon people walk out of a building. We meet the main character played by Jackie Chan and his daughter. About five minutes in, there is an explosion and his daughter dies, thus setting off Jackie Chan’s two hour road to vengeance. This is not the lighthearted Jackie Chan from his American movies of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. He has a much more serious tone like his earlier Hong Kong films and is doing his best Liam Neeson impersonation as an aging, grizzled hero determined on finding who he wants and nobody can stop him. The comparison to Taken (2009) is obvious especially with the scenes in London, but when The Foreigner switches gears to a rural setting it borrows a lot from First Blood (1982) and Jackie Chan has very little dialogue. His performance is more similar to Stallone as Rambo during those scenes. He has a very weary look throughout the film as if he did not sleep at all during the entire time he was shooting which fits perfectly for his role.
Even the subject matter feels vintage. The terrorist attack that kills his daughter is an IRA bombing. The IRA has not been a topic or catalyst for movie villains since the 90’s. Which was also the same time Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan were marquee names. Both of these actors have aged gracefully and handle this action movie with a degree of gravity that adds to the films respectability from just another run of the mill action picture. Brosnan actually has an equal amount of screen time as Jackie Chan and a more complex role as the Irish Deputy Minister for the British government. He seems shady at times, but not vile. We never really know where he stands, if he is telling the truth or lying to protect someone, or himself. Both Chan and Brosnan’s characters harbor dark secrets and tragedies from their past and convey them well with their facial expressions enhanced by the director Martin Campbell’s choice of lighting, camera positioning, and framing.
It is essential to mention the director Martin Campbell who has experience with action movies, most notably GoldenEye (1995) and Casino Royale (2006), two of the best James Bond movies not starring Sean Connery. He has a keen eye for action sequences and creates multidimensional characters with how he uses the camera, editing, and music. The Foreigner is an old school movie about old school honor, something often neglected in movies and in our society. Art reflects real life and our values are desperately missing a sense of honor that previous generations held dear. It also exposes dirty politics from across the pond. Corruption is as universal as any fatalistic human trait.
Where The Foreigner succeeded the most was with its portrait of an outsider. Once again, discrimination and racism are not American traits, they are part of the human condition and this movie confronts them in a way not often seen in movies. Jackie Chan is an outsider living in England and everyone dismisses him as a “Chinaman”, which was the name of the novel the movie based on. Some of the saddest scenes involve Chan asking for help and getting brushed off by the authorities and not taken seriously, so eventually he seeks justice on his own terms. The final shot of The Foreigner is one of the best. This movie is ultimately about finding peace and defining what makes a family. The last moment drives home those themes and reminds us what should be most important in life.