The Foreigner is like two different movies. One movie is a revenge flick and the other is a political thriller. Where the former movie is a genuinely intense blast, the latter is sadly sluggish and even kind of boring at times. While the material is uneven, there are two things that tip this review in the film’s favor: it’s leading men. Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan rose to prominence through their iconic work in action pictures. They might be in their twilight years now, but both can still deliver their fair share of badass moments, especially with Martin Campbell behind the camera.
Chan stars as a British Chinese man named Quan, who loses his daughter in a bombing. He just so happens to be a former Navy SEAL, which gives him a very particular set of skills to avenge his family. Before Quan can hunt the terrorists down, however, he needs their names. The attack is seemingly connected to Pierce Brosnan’s Liam Hennessy, a British government official with a shady past. Quan thus relentlessly pursues Hennessy until he sings like a canary.
In addition to being a martial arts master, we all know that Chan has a wonderful sense of humor and is never afraid to look a little goofy. He dials it back in The Foreigner, turning in a subtle and effective performance as a grieving father. Chan really makes us feel for Quan, who can go from vulnerable to unstoppable in a beat of the heart. This amounts to several well-choreographed set pieces that call Rambo, Taken, and even MacGyver to mind. It’s truly some of the best action we’ve seen from director Campbell since he made Casino Royale.
Unfortunately, the film drastically slows down whenever the focus shifts from Chan to Brosnan. Don’t get me wrong, Brosnan is a talented actor and he does bring a domineering presence to his role here. The problem is that we never come to identify with Hennessy. With Quan, his motivation is clear and simple. With Hennessy, his motivation feels confused and misguided. Half of the time, we’re not even sure if he’s supposed to be a villain or if we’re supposed to sympathize with him. Hennessy does get a bit more interesting whenever he shares the screen with Quan. Had the rivalry between these characters been better fleshed out, however, we might’ve gotten a topnotch thriller.
Of course for what we do get, The Foreigner is well acted, well made, and perfectly serviceable as far as popcorn entertainment goes. It likely would’ve benefited from being twenty minutes shorter. The middle act in particular is where the plot drags, which isn’t surprising since it puts more emphasis on Hennessy than Quan. You could argue that the screenplay doesn’t deserve talents like Chan and Brosnan. Since Chan and Brosnan are present, though, the film ultimately works well enough.