"The Foreigner" (2017) Review
This is not a hardcore action film.
That's not to say there's no action it, but The Foreigner being marketed as a Taken-like action film has probably done some damage in the long run. If you're interested in seeing The Foreigner, know what you're getting into. This is less Rambo: First Blood Part II and more First Blood. This is less a gritty action film and more a political thriller. If you know that heading into The Foreigner, you're going to have a much better time with it.
The setup takes some time to establish itself. Jackie Chan plays Quan Ngoc Minh, a Chinese immigrant living in London, England. In the first few minutes, his daughter, Fan, is killed in a bombing. He grieves like any father would, but he's especially devastated since Fan was the last of his family, the rest having died long ago. He becomes consumed by the obsession to find out who is behind the bombing, which leads him to a former IRA member turned politician Liam Hennessy, played by Pierce Brosnan. After no one is willing to give Quan any answers, his facade of politeness drops almost immediately as Hennessy finds himself in Quan's crosshairs.
That hook would have been enough to carry most thrillers, but it's interesting to see how many characters and conspiracies end up stuffed into The Foreigner's two hour runtime. What's more impressive about those characters and conspiracies are how many of them are legitimately compelling. You'll be able to spot "the actual bad guy" from a million miles away, but the particular details of their plans unfold in unexpected ways.
What separates it from a political thriller is the presence of Quan. He's the wrench in the machine and his game of cat and mouse with Hennessy is viscerally satisfying. Sometimes Quan just takes a stealthy photo with a cellphone, other times he's planting a bomb in a shed without killing anyone just to prove that he can get to Hennessy. The actual fight scenes are well choreographed for the most part, but what makes them great is how people get K.O.-ed. People go down in only a couple of hits, so every slip-up and every move counts. If you fall a bit too far and land funny on your back, you're out.
But even with an adjustment of expectations and understanding that The Foreigner is trying to hold back, you just want it to let loose some more. The set-pieces are easily the best part of the film, and while the aforementioned political thriller aspects are well-done, they're just not as satisfying as Quan's machinations.
The Foreigner is the textbook definition of a "solid" film. It's not incredible, it's not bad, and it's not even mediocre. It's good, but you can see how it could have been a pretty remarkable film when you look at the various players involved.
And it's nice to hear a musical score from Cliff Martinez in a movie like this. I wish people would take advantage of his skills more often.