There are two sorts of plot at work in The Foreigner, a new thriller from Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, Green Lantern). One is labyrinthine, a tale of subterranean political intrigue and terrorism with a new twist in every scene. The other is straight as a bullet from a gun, a single-minded tale of revenge driven by one man’s passion to punish those who have harmed him. We’re used to seeing one or the other, but seldom both at once and that meeting of sub-genres helps keep the film unpredictable. Even if neither half would be wholly successful on its own, the chocolate-meets-peanut butter combination sets it apart. It’s a meeting of two worlds in other respects as well, pitting Jackie Chan, an action star in a class by himself, against Pierce Brosnan, the star of four James Bond films (including the Campbell-directed Goldeneye).
Here, both play characters at a remove from the roles that made them famous. Brosnan made a fine Bond, but he was sometimes let down by the movies around him. Nonetheless, playing Bond seems to have unlocked something in the actor, whose best work since Goldeneye has played against the suave, elegant 007 image, be it the slovenly assassin of The Matador or the thinly veiled, and less-than-heroic, Tony Blair stand-in of The Ghost Writer. The Foreigner’s Liam Hennessy is in that same tradition. A slick politician representing Northern Ireland who’s still connected to his roots in the IRA, he’s a man who looks put-together on the outside but struggles to keep up appearances. Always on the verge of some kind of meltdown, he’s earned respect and wealth while living a lie, and it’s made him act like a hunted man.
Appropriately, it’s not too deep into The Foreigner that he becomes a target. In the film’s opening scene, Quan Ngoc Minh (Chan), the seemingly unremarkable owner of a London Chinese restaurant, watches in horror as his teenage daughter dies in a bombing attack later claimed by a group called “The Authentic IRA.” This sets him on the path a revenge, a path made clearer, we later learn, by the training he received as a special services operative during the Vietnam War.