STK Entertainment, 2017
David Marconi, Stephen Leather, and Martin Campbell
📷 : Photo by Jack Finnigan on Unsplash
Action packed (violence)
Movies and TV shows with low-key characters
In The Foreigner, Jackie Chan (Rush Hour) plays Quan Min, a subdued, London restaurant owner who seeks revenge for the bombing death of his teenage daughter. Unlike Chan’s comedic and fighting characters, this is a dramatic role. In it, he delivers a cogent performance as a grieving and aging widower determined to hold everyone responsible for his daughter’s death to account. Quite simply, he wants “Names.”
Pierce Brosnan (Final Score, Mama Mia! Here We Go Again) plays Liam Hennessy, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) member turned politician. As a point of history, the IRA claimed responsibility for numerous bombings throughout England from the late 1960s through early 2000s in retaliation for the British settling in Northern Ireland. Given this history, one wonders if the film’s title refers to Liam, the British, or Min, who emigrated from Vietnam.
The bombings largely ceased after the two sides signed a peace treaty in 1998 agreeing to share power. In this context, Liam seeks the status and lifestyle lavished upon him by British politicians to keep his former comrades in check. But the task proves daunting as the situation is not as simple as it seems. Caught between a rock and hard place, Liam is forced to choose between appeasing his fellow Irishmen in their disdain for the British, or work with the British to capture his erstwhile companions. Doing either costs him one way or another.
The Foreigner takes the audience from the busy, congested districts of London to the beautiful countryside of Ireland. But it relies on strong dialog more so than scenery to move the story along. While the action is immersive and Min intrigues us as we wait with bated breath for what he will do next, the film’s surprises take us aback. In the end, the story affirms that playing both ends against the middle rarely works out. At some point, we are forced to pick a side and to do so with conviction. But it also leaves us to ponder just how much conviction is too much.
Regarding Chan specifically, his role here is such a sharp departure from his earlier films that we can’t help but wonder if it represents his transition to playing characters that require more acting and dialog, and less action. According to IMDB, he was about 63 years-old when the film was released, so perhaps age influenced his decision to play “Min.”
Indeed, the same transition occurred with Pierce Brosnan who starred in James Bond films in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and gradually moved to less physically demanding roles in Mamma Mia, Ghost Writer, and Bag of Bones. While Denzel Washington and Clint Eastwood were not cast in action roles in their younger years per se, they too transitioned to play older and sometimes wiser characters than their acting counterparts (i.e. The Little Things, Fences, Gran Torino, The Mule).
The same can be seen even with respect to Will Smith. Despite still having a body that puts some 25-year-olds to shame, his characters too require less action than those in his earlier films like Enemy of the State, Bad Boys, and I, Robot. To be fair, Gemini Man and Bad Boys for Life did demand quite a bit of action, though not quite as rigorous as some of his earlier characters. But Smith represents an exception since he has moved in and out of dramatic and action characters throughout his film career (i.e. Ali, Hitch, I am Legend, Hancock, Seven Pounds, Concussion). Thus, we are not likely to see as sudden a change in his on-screen roles as we do with Chan in this film.
Given Min’s mission in The Foreigner, the audience should not be surprised that Chan’s finesse and combat skills come into play. But the grace, humility, and deep humanity he displays throughout, make him a calming presence on the screen. The role is a welcome change from the comedic, hard-action, and undoubtedly physically taxing films of his younger years. Indeed, the reprieve is likely welcomed by the actor. Who says aging is bad? Perhaps, it just means trying something new and striving to get better at it. After all, life isn’t over yet!