Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Foreigner review

Adapting a film from a novel can present special problems. Books may not be cinematic. And sometimes, novels can have too much detail that makes it difficult to cram into a movie of two hours long. That seems to be problem with The Foreigner , actor Jackie Chan's latest film.

Jackie Chan plays Quan, a former Vietnamese special forces soldier. who has a "particular set of skills."   After the Viet Nam war, he's now living in London as an owner of a gay fundamentalist Baptist bakery.  No.  I'm kidding about the bakery.  He runs a Chinese restaurant.  While taking his daughter to a  dressmaker, she's killed by a bomb set off by a group called the "Authentic IRA."

Quan wants answers.  So he confronts northern Irish government official, Hennessey.  (Pierce Brosnan)  Hennessy's got a bunch of secrets, one of them was that he was a former member of the IRA.  Quan follows Hennessy back to Ireland and "pressures" him for information about his daughter's killers.

Chan's age makes him perfect for this old soldier.  His fighting style and stunts are slower and less Buster Keaton.  Chan gets to show his acting chops as weary and depressed warrior.  Pierce Brosnan gets to let his Irish accent hang out.  He's not Bond, James Bond here.  His Hennessy is both practical and conniving.

There's one big problem to this film.  It's David Marconi's script.  You see it's adapted from a novel by Stephen Leather, The Chinaman.   I'll admit I didn't read the 1992 book.  So, I've got to make some assumptions.  First, let's hope the title of the book is satirical. Because being a Chinese American, the term "chinaman" is racist because it was used by bigots as an early racial epithet. But I digress. I'm presuming that the book had much more detail about the political atmosphere of the conflict between the IRA and Great Britain since it was written during the times of armed conflict. That makes turning the novel into a two hour movie difficult. It's hard to put all the political and personal details into a two hour film. Plot threads in The Foreigner are not explained or merely hinted at without any context. For example, people are killed with little or no context. The result is confusion and it makes you not care. This makes the movie an empty experience.

Director Martin Campbell who directed Brosnan in the entertaining Bond movie Goldeneye (1995) which also starred Brosnan has made a dull movie. That's hard to believe with Chan and Brosnan.    But given the screenplay, it maybe less of his fault. I mean the climatic confrontation between Quan and the terrorists takes place in cramped apartment. How about a foot chase culminating with Jackie Chan taking down the bad guys mano a mano?

The Foreigner is a strange action movie about IRA terrorism being that the threat of terrorism to Great Britain  today comes from those that adhere to a philosophy of radical Islam.  But perhaps that's not political correct.   This current threat of terrorism would have been more interesting.  Or the filmmakers could have fleshed out nebulous and confusing plot threads.   Either one would have made The Foreigner a better movie.   As it stands here, The Foreigner is not boring but not great.  The grade is B Minus. 


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