With the Chinese film market being as huge as it is and with Jackie Chan being its biggest export (sorry, Chow Yun Fat), Hollywood being Hollywood will capitalize on it. But this time around the powers that be also placed a quality filmmaker at the helm. Martin Campbell has a very specific set of skills. He will find a dying franchise and/or actor and he will rejuvenate them. He did that twice for the Bond franchise with GoldenEye and Casino Royale, he made people care about The Mask Of Zorro, and he shepherded Mel Gibson’s return with Edge Of Darkness.
Good ol’ Billy Shakes once said that when every story in the known world is condensed to its bare essence, we have all but seven unique ones. Little did we know that the story of Taken was one of those. The Foreigner (which should have been named The Chinaman going by the number of times the word is used in this film) follows Jackie Chan’s 64-year-old restaurateur Ngoc Minh Quan as he tries to uncover the identities of the men who bombed a local department store to smithereens killing his daughter. On the other end of the story, we have Liam Hennessey (Pierce “I’m Irish” Brosnan), a former leader of the IRA and present-day politician, who himself is embroiled in a deadly game of bureaucratic chess with a few members of the British Parliament and police force.
Between trying to keep his affair out of the sight of his wife and trying to obtain pardons for 40 IRA members, Hennessey is constantly pestered by the subdued and quiet Quan. Soon after Hennessey dismisses Quan and his requests as nothing more than a nuisance, Hennessey’s bathroom is blown to bits, and his car is next. All that Quan wants are some names.
Unsurprisingly, Quan is a man with a very specific set of skills (a combination of Bryan Mills and Rambo) who is hell-bent on getting the names he needs. Like a holier-than-thou life coach would say, he is flexible with his methods but is rigid about his goals.
The film-like Quan himself is workman-like. It is not trying to be high art or even high action. Unlike Liam Neeson demolishing fools with an endless series of throat chops, Jackie Chan exhibits vulnerability, pain, and intelligence. Following in the footsteps of a CBS procedural, the movie moves from scene to scene with precision, not allowing itself too much time to needlessly dwell on unimportant things which do not further the plot.
While one needs to appreciate the movie’s adherence to pacing itself out and respecting the audience’s time, Quan’s vendetta is often overshadowed by Hennessey’s political manoeuvring, and for most of us Indians with little to no to concept of what the IRA is and how it affects the political climate between England and Northern Ireland, the film’s conflicts might come off as needlessly convoluted. With the Asian audience being its prime demographic, the movie could have done better by elaborating on and meshing the two plotlines in a more convincing way.
But we did not go into this movie for political intrigue; we went in to see the Chan-issance. And the man does not disappoint. Jackie Chan who is known for his salt-of-the-earth roots and immense commitment while acting in his unparalleled action movies is also an actor who worked on Shakespearian plays in his early years. While still performing close combat scenes with the finesse of a much younger actor, Chan’s acting is what takes center stage. Rarely do you see the lovable star sans his smile, and yet through the course of this film, Chan plays his character with pain behind his eyes and a palpable heaviness in his heart. This is unchartered territory for most audiences, but it is a performance bound to impress and hook each and every one of them.
Going toe-to-toe with Chan is former Bond Pierce Brosnan and his merry band of Irish rogues. Most of them are given a scene to shine in, and the confrontations between Brosnan and Chan are substantially tense.
Underscoring their many tense face-offs is Cliff Martinez’s score. While not as compelling as his previous work in Drive or Only God Forgives, Martinez’s music deviates from the usual pulse-pounding loudness of a run-of-the-mill action film to help underline characters and their tribulations. And thank Cliff for his score as the cinematography is nothing to write home. As previously mentioned, the movie mimics the look and feel of a TV procedural, and does not induce a feeling of the cinematic.
And that line is what defines this film. It does not feel magnificent, and its characters are not superhuman or over-the-top megalomaniacs. To echo a previous sentiment, the movie is workmanlike. The Foreigner comes in, does his job and walks out expecting the audience is satisfied with his service – which is still the perfect prescription for a lazy weekend afternoon.