As a critic I try not to bring my personal baggage when I set out to review a film, but sometimes a movie just goes too far. With all the recent tragedies in the U.S. and abroad (including right here in my hometown of Las Vegas), I found nothing at all redeemable about “The Foreigner.”
The story, based on the novel “The Chinaman” by Stephen Leather, tells the story of Quan (Jackie Chan) who seeks revenge on the terrorists who killed his daughter in a bank bombing. The plot veers off into a ridiculous, dark, and disturbing territory rather than sticking to a straight cat-and-mouse game thriller formula a’la better movies like “Taken.” Instead of making an engaging revenge story, it becomes something that borders on distasteful.
Quan responds to the bombing with a string of horrifying intimidation techniques in an attempt to bully a high ranking government official Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) into disclosing the names of the bombers. The very first event that rubbed me the wrong way was how our supposed “hero” responds to a bombing with another….bombing. He threatens Hennessy’s staff and family members, makes more homemade bombs, burns down houses, fires automatic assault rifles, and even (temporarily) poisons the family dog. He becomes a terrorist himself, making for a most unpleasant film. Days later, I still feel crummy when I think about it.
The movie uncomfortably mirrors the horrors going on in the today’s world, albeit with a different enemy.
Movies as an art form are sometimes meant to challenge, inspire, provoke, and disturb, but above all else they are meant to entertain. This one feels more like a stressful evening at home watching a terror attack unfold live on CNN than an enjoyable escape.
“The Foreigner” is a deeply unpleasant movie. It begins with the bombing of a London bank that ends up killing a dozen innocent people and injuring scores more. And nothing that follows serves to lift the mood or make the film any more enjoyable as it unspools.
One of the innocents murdered in the bombing is the teenage daughter Quan Ngoc Minh (Jackie Chan), a Chinese immigrant with a “special set of skills” a la Liam Neeson. But unlike the prototypical Neeson revenge film, there isn’t much satisfaction to be had here in watching Minh get his revenge. The acts of terrorism touch a nerve (particularly with the recent events in Las Vegas) and the motivations behind the them a little too realistic.
The realism of “The Foreigner” is its greatest handicap. The acts of violence, the motivations of the people behind them, and the desire for justice are all a little too familiar. Unlike straight-up revenge thrillers like “John Wick” and “Taken,” “The Foreigner” hits a little too close to home to work. Avoid it.