On paper, The Foreigner seems like a sure fire thing. Jackie Chan plays a grieving father, who seeks vengeance on the IRA bombers whose London terrorist attack killed his teenage daughter. In order to hunt them down, Chan's seemingly quiet, reserved Chinese restaurant owner begins harassing an Irish Ambassador to Britain (Pierce Brosnan), who has a long, public history of ties to the Irish Republican Army. When the diplomat refuses to aid the tenacious man in his quest for justice, things escalate rather quickly, as it turns out this seemingly meek immigrant was also an explosives expert during the Vietnam War, and resurrects those old skills (on top of Chan's usual acrobatic knack for inflicting bodily harm, age be damned) in order to get the politician to spill the names of the men who took his family from him.
Before we go any further, let's make it clear: this isn't an article explaining to you why The Foreigner is some overlooked 2017 classic. The more truthful description of the picture would be "a remarkably solid matinee movie". Hell, an even more apt account may be that The Foreigner is "like four matinee movies that don't entirely stitch together in any organic fashion, rolled up into one overlong Sunday special (all scored by Cliff Martinez)". But that's also what makes it special - there aren't any grand designs bubbling beneath the surface of this diverting potboiler, that's obviously been crafted with an adult audience (see: thirty or above) in mind. It's just a sturdily made piece of pulp that reminds you Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) is one of the better action craftsmen of the last twenty or so years, dropping a Chan-fronted First Blood riff right in the middle of a slightly convoluted political procedural.
It's exciting to watch Chan - now nearing sixty-four years of age - embracing the twilight era of his career. Campbell (along with a crew of makeup artists) emphasize the Hong Kong legend's increasingly tired eyes and ashen skin, as Quan Ngoc Minh is a far cry away from the chiseled, boyish martial arts masters that Chan made his name portraying during the '70s and '80s. But the action star is still committed to his trademark style of physical performance, exercising incredible control over his body to present Quan as this slumped, inconspicuous schlub, who slowly morphs into a stealthy commando, tailing Liam Hennessey (Brosnan) to his secluded compound, where the former Special Forces soldier engages in all out guerilla warfare. Primitive traps are set as Hennessey calls in the goons, and Chan is having the time of his life engaging in bursts of hand-to-hand combat, which Campbell stages as quick, brutal fisticuffs that are easy to make out.
To be honest, the strangest element of The Foreigner is Pierce Brosnan, who seems to visibly struggle with his brogue (which is funny, seeing how Brosnan, well, Irish). With Hennessey, the former 007 is portraying a variation of the same sort of Tony Blair archetype he molded in Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer. We're fairly certain from frame one the bureaucrat is hiding something, as he navigates London's halls of power, attempting to negotiate deals for political prisoners to be released due to the attacks. Hennessey knows the code words for IRA bombings, and has admitted to "doing his time" for similar crimes in the past, before reforming and serving the peace on both sides of the conflict. His wife (Orla Brady) recognizes he's a cheating bastard; his affair with a young political activist (Charlie Murphy) being held in plain sight, she yearns for the days when Liam was a strong, brash leader with a cause he truly believed in. Once Hennessey brings in his combat trained nephew (Rory Fleck-Byrne) to track and kill Quan, he's all but revealed his true colors - a bloodstained combo of red, green and white, spattered with flecks of crimson.
The Foreigner was made for $35 million, and arguably didn't need a single cent of American box office to be a hit. In China (where Chan co-produced the film with his Sparkle Roll Media), Campbell's thriller is already nearing $90 million. The American total sits just under $25 million, after the movie opened two weeks ago in the third position at the B.O. (behind Happy Death Day and Blade Runner 2049). Altogether, the worldwide gross hovers around $115 million - not too shabby for what is now the very definition of a "mid-range movie". While The Foreigner certainly doesn't compare to the types of hits Chan used to churn out on the regular (with the Rush Hour movies existing in their own financial stratosphere), this is still a rather respectable success for a star who hasn't had a live-action movie go into wide American release since 2010 (The Karate Kid).
Now, you're probably asking yourself: why is this guy writing about a film two weeks after its all but come and gone in America? Well, the answer is actually inserted into the question. The Foreigner is going to be quickly exiting US movie houses over the next two weeks - making way for holiday fare - and its a damn shame. Were this the '80s or '90s, Chan and Brosnan's pulp hybrid would be sticking around for another two months, letting the receipts trickle in from discerning adults who just want a perfectly entertaining thriller to amuse them for an afternoon. The Foreigner is also the type of picture we really don't get anymore - a sturdily constructed throwback where heroes don't wear capes, but hide in the woods and set traps for the enemies who wronged them. It's a well-acted, morally grey matinee movie that didn't cost $150 million to make. We should support these types of films before they disappear (or are solely released in Chinese theaters) altogether. It's a treat to have a potboiler made for adults playing at the multiplex, now go buy a ticket and have some fun with an action legend for a few hours.