Sunday, 17 December 2017

The Foreigner (2017, director Martin Campbell)

Stephen Leather's a damn good writer, and when I noticed a film based on his 1992 thriller The Chinaman was due for release in 2017, I made it my business to seek it out. So on the same weekend as a certain Jedi-related movie's debut, I was curled up with The Foreigner, starring Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan and Katie Leung, among others.

Frankly, I was amazed.

It's a fairly strong, if simple plot. You come in thinking this is a revenge story, and it is. Chan's humble but determined Quan, a London restauranteur who lost his daughter in an IRA bombing, wants the names of the bombers. He doesn't care about anything else; the politics of the situation are meaningless to him. He just wants to get to the people who hurt his family, a motive anyone can understand and empathize with.

The sticky layers of complication become apparent when Quan crosses the water to Ireland, and meets Brosnan's Liam Hennessy, Irish deputy minister and former terrorist who's been mucking about in dodgy dealing for his own political ends. He wants pardons for former IRA people now in UK custody, because if he's seen to be the man who secured those pardons then his political future is assured. He has a plan to leverage the UK government's assistance, but this scheme is swiftly hijacked, and before long he's battling to stay afloat in treacherous political waters. Quan's arrival doesn't make things easier for him; just when he needs to be in political action, he has to hide in his farmhouse to avoid Quan's deadly bomb attacks. Pressure mounts. He can't afford to be distracted, but Quan dogs his heels every step of the way, with one and only one demand: give me the names of the bombers.

For those Night's Black Agents aficionados out there wondering what kind of game this is, it's Dust, all the way. Treachery hangs over the plot like a thundercloud, before the storm breaks with a crack and a bang. The novel was written in 1992, so I was prepared for a few plot-related creaks and groans; after all, more than twenty years have passed. Technology, and politics, have changed. However there was nothing about the plot I could fault for its realism, or tactics. The combat and action scenes are well-paced and serve the plot, as opposed to being never-ending vehicles for glamor shots. The firefights are exactly the kind of pyrotechnic madhouse you'd expect from an actual gun battle, as opposed to the blood-soaked heroism of, say, a Stallone or Schwarzenegger film.

Moreover it's a revelation to see Jackie Chan, of all people, play against type. He's usually the happy-go-lucky indestructible warrior. You know he's broken every single bone in his body, and yet he always comes out smiling. Not this time. You believe he is that damaged sexagenarian, short of breath, devoid of hope, who just wants one thing: revenge. There's one moment when Chan has to perform emergency surgery on himself after being shot, and to be honest I wasn't sure whether the scarred torso was Chan's or his character's. If any actor working today might actually have a body as marred as that in real life, it's Jackie Chan.

This film's been compared, unfairly in my opinion, to the Taken series, because revenge is the motivating factor in each case. Frankly, I'm not seeing it, and Chan's the reason why. He's not an action hero. Liam Neeson is. You never really believe Neeson is under any threat in the Taken films; he's the good guy, they're the bad guys, and we all know who wins in that situation.

But Jackie Chan isn't the good guy here. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find an actual action hero good guy in this film. Everyone lies, betrays, tortures, kills to get what they want, the British government as well as the Irish terrorists. Quan's the least morally complicated character in the film, but that's because he doesn't want much. He doesn't have Hennessy's ambition or some cause to follow. His needs are simple, and his anger terrible to behold.  

I'd recommend this film to anyone who enjoys espionage thrillers, and in particular to players and Directors contemplating another trip into Night's Black Agents territory. Perhaps after supporting a certain Dracula Dossier Humble Bundle? You won't be disappointed.

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