The Foreigner (2017)

foreigner1This is one of those films where you have to leave common-sense and reason at the door and just go along with the madness. If you do, there is actually much to enjoy here.

I was actually surprised to learn that the film is based on a 1992 thriller written by Stephen Leather titled The Chinaman (why the title change, I don’t know, as Jackie Chan is often referred to as ‘the Chinaman’ through the film). The film seems so indebted to films like Taken, First Blood, and Patriot Games that I really expected it was one of those ‘original’ screenplays cooked up over re-watching a DVD collection- it really does seem so formulaic at times (sequences of Chan being hunted down by Irish thugs in woods is almost a retread of First Blood, with the thugs suffering all sorts of traps and one-sided violence).

Mr Quan (Chan) is a London restaurant owner who is taking his beautiful young daughter shopping in the city and you just know the day is not going to go well- a bombing takes place which kills Mr Quan’s daughter and a group naming themselves the real IRA claims responsibility. First Mr Quan makes a nuisance of himself at Scotland Yard when he repeatedly wants to know how well the investigation is going and who is responsible for the atrocity. His attention then turns to Northern Ireland deputy First Minister Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan, a (misguided?) doppelganger for Gerry Adams here) who was once a member of the UDI/IRA but now rejects acts of violence and has no knowledge of who is responsible (but assures the British authorities he will try to find out).

Hennessy, naturally for this kind of film, isn’t quite as innocent as he claims although it is clear he not in control of what is clearly escalating- a second bomb goes off in London, killing civilians on a London bus. Quan travels to Northern Island to confront Hennessy and sets off a bomb himself as a warning that he wants names. Quan has a Special Forces background that belies his mild-mannered old-man exterior and proceeds to hound and threaten Hennessy to give up the names of his associates responsible for the bombings in London.

Deftly directed by none less than Martin Campbell of Casino Royale, Goldeneye and The Mask of Zorro, The Foreigner may be daft with pretty ill-informed politics but as an action thriller its great. Chan, has always, is warmly charismatic in his role as a grieving father and the fight scenes are very impressive- indeed it may be one of the most challenging roles of his career.  Now in his early sixties its a little bewildering (and scary) seeing him performing such physical stunts and fight routines, but its perhaps his dramatic work here as a grieving father that most impresses. The pace of the film is brisk and the tension well-maintained over a near-two hour running time. Pierce Brosnan shoulders one of the strangest Irish accents ever recorded on film but its his aforementioned likeness of Gerry Adams that perhaps makes the whole film a little too uncomfortable to watch considering its clearly a work of fiction.

At any rate, its a finely made thriller that delivers on all fronts even though liberties are clearly taken with the politics and the action sequences, well-staged as they may be, stretch credulity somewhat. Available on Netflix now here in the UK (another Netflix original?), its well worth a look.

4 thoughts on “The Foreigner (2017)

  1. Yeah, this is another Netflix “original” — it was released theatrical in the US, but for reasons known only to the distributors (I guess) was sold to Netflix over here. I seem to remember it went down quite well in the States too, because it’s been on my radar for a while, but haven’t got round to it yet. Sounds like it’s exactly what I expected/hoped it would be.

  2. Tom

    I really enjoyed this. Please forgive me for sounding ignorant here, but I was quite drawn in by the political world building here. I live in the States, though I was born in Stockport, England. Naturally I’m now fairly removed from the political ups and downs of my birth nation. So i left the movie with the impression that they painted a pretty accurate portrayal of the chilliness of Irish-British relations. But, again, thats from where I sit

    1. It is rather seductive, how black and white the troubles are presented, and I don’t really confess to understand them myself, but the closeness of Brosnan’s character to the real-life Gerry Adams was particularly unnerving, as he is shown torturing and killing someone and arranging his own wife’s murder. Likewise how ruthless and non-pc the British forces were, themselves torturing a prisoner for information and then killing her in cold blood. While many would profess to thinking our anti-terrorism forces really should be that ruthless, its clear that our politicians won’t blow their own nose in public without some think-tank assuring them it won’t offend someone and end up in the Sunday newspapers, so I’m sure our forces are handicapped, if anything, for fear of any bad press/public backlash,

      That said, the film is very effective for what it is.

      1. Tom

        Yeah, I just had to look up a photo of Gerry Adams, hadn’t heard the name before. And my god, that is a scary resemblance. I certainly have never viewed Martin Campbell as a director of nuance and subtlety — even his Casino Royale was pretty blunt but that had such amazing style it almost didn’t matter. Yet in this movie I think I was drawn in so much by the kind of atypical performances we get from both leads. So I sort of accepted the political cat-and-mousing for what it was, disregarding actual historical/factual accuracy in the process. Making me, in the end, grateful that someone actually pointed it out

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