Chan on unfamiliar ground in The Foreigner
The Foreigner (out of 4) Starring Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan. Directed by Martin Campbell. Opened Oct. 12 at GTA theatres. 114 minutes. R
Jackie Chan appears to have wandered into the wrong movie.
Certainly his latest role, as the humble owner of the Happy Peacock Chinese restaurant turned avenging angel after the death of his daughter, is a big departure for an actor whose career has consisted of playing genial Joes with a knack for well-choreographed chop-socky action.
Chan has always had a Chaplinesque quality, a sad clown of sorts, but here, as ostensible protagonist Quan Ngoc Minh, there’s not much opportunity for his impish trademark grin. No, his visage expresses mostly deep sorrow (past and present) and grim determination.
Meanwhile, big things are happening all around Quan as a group calling itself the Authentic IRA launches a series of bombings around London, sparking a manhunt by the Metropolitan Police anti-terrorism unit SO15, and uncovering a web of treachery and lies among Irish nationalists. In many ways, the guy everyone else refers to offhandedly as “the Chinaman” is both in over his head and a rather peripheral player in the conflict raging around him.
The script by David Marconi ( Enemy of the State) is dense and complex and even relatively plausible.
Once the first bomb goes off — killing Quan’s daughter among others — pressure by British authorities mounts on Liam Hennessy, deputy minister for Northern Ireland affairs, to get to the bottom of things. Quan fixates on Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) and begins to stalk him rather effectively.
Chan is well known for doing his own fight scenes and stunts but he’s no longer a young fella, which makes the inventive acrobatics that ensue whenever he encounters trouble even more impressive than usual.
Brosnan actually does most of the heavy lifting as the intricate plot unfolds and he’s quite good as Hennessy, a senior government mandarin living la dolce vita whose lifetime of high-wire intriguing comes back to bite him on the ass.
Audiences will face a challenge in keeping up with a multitude of characters and a sinewy plot that contains quite a few surprises.
Director Martin Campbell, whose career is a mixed bag — a big yes for Casino Royale (2006), a big whatwere-you-thinking? for Green Lantern (2011) — is more than capable of orchestrating some great action scenes while keeping the complex storyline on track.
So while The Foreigner doesn’t get much by way of rich, textured performance from Chan, he remains a likeable everyman hero type that the audience roots for as he navigates his world through a labyrinth of violence and betrayal. Bruce DeMara
Goodbye Christopher Robin (out of 4) Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie. Directed by Simon Curtis. Opens Friday at Cineplex Odeon Varsity. 107 minutes. PG
War is hell, especially the War to End All Wars, which, of course, it wasn’t because the Second World War followed a mere 21 years later, both of which act as book ends for Goodbye Christopher Robin.
It tells the story of A.A. (Alan) Milne, who’s deep psychic wounds from the war eventually lead him to create beloved Winnie the Pooh and his storybook friends in the Hundred Acre Wood.
The story opens with a telegram announcing son Christopher, who has gone off to fight against his father’s wishes, is missing in action and presumed dead. Then it’s back to the beginning, with Milne ensconcing himself in the Sussex countryside with a wife who prefers London and son Christopher.
But Winnie the Pooh becomes such an international sensation, it turns young Christopher into a media star, endangering the fragile bonds between father and son.
The performances are fine, especially an endearing Will Tilston as young Christopher.
Although a decent enough film touching on important themes, its emotional resonance falls a little short of satisfying. BD
Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House (out of 4) Starring Liam Neeson, Diane Lane and Marton Csokas. Written and directed by Peter Landesman. Opens Friday at Cineplex Yonge-Dundas. 103 minutes. PG
The furtive figure history knows best as Watergate snitch Deep Throat gets a movie treatment more suited to the printed page than the big screen.
Liam Neeson is ideally cast as the righteous Mark Felt, a deputy under FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover and also the heir apparent when Hoover dies in 1972.
A career G-man, Felt is admired by many as a gent of honour and principle, even if he has been party to some of the bureau’s breaches of civil liberties and despite frosty relations with his unhappy wife (Diane Lane).
But skulduggery within the Nixon White House, driven to crisis mode by the Washington Post’s investigation of the Watergate break-in weeks after Hoover’s demise, robs Felt of the promotion he expected and he turns subterranean squealer. Is it revenge or defence of American liberties? Writer/director Peter Landesman ( Parkland), lethargically adapting Felt’s memoirs, seems more interested in petty bickering than exploring the complicated mind behind the white hair and granite visage. Watergate journalists Woodward and Bernstein are bizarrely bit players in this torpid tale. Peter Howell
BPM (Beats Per Minute) (out of 4) Starring Nahuel Perez Biscayart, Arnaud Valois, Adele Haenel, Felix Maritaud and Antoine Reinartz. Written and directed by Robin Campillo. Opens Friday at TIFF Bell Lightbox. 143 minutes. 18A
This Cannes 2017 Grand Prix drama is both intimately shot and historically aware, drawing from director Robin Campillo’s past as an AIDS activist in the 1990s. The film finds the humanity behind the headlines.
Fans of Campillo’s previous writing will appreciate BPM’s energetic dialogue and optimistic verve, despite being set in a dangerous time before the advent of protease inhibitors, when an HIV/AIDS diagnosis was a prelude to a fast death.
Much of the narrative concerns the increasingly rowdy efforts by the Paris chapter of the ACT UP protest group, of which Campillo was once a member, to gain public recognition and also action by governments, corporations and scientists to address the AIDS crisis. Among the many characters, Arnaud Valois’ reactive Nathan and Nahuel Perez Biscayart’s flinty Sean make the deepest impression as lovers struggling to cope with a life not of their choosing.
Those unfamiliar with the Moroccan-born filmmaker’s close-quarters style, as seen in such previous works as Eastern Boys, may find the ricochet of words too repetitive to feel compelling. But the film is a valuable and heartfelt document nonetheless. PH
78/52 (out of 4) Documentary on the meaning and influence of the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Directed by Alexandre O. Philippe. Opens Friday at TIFF Bell Lightbox. 91 minutes. PG
The Bates Motel shower murder scene of Janet Leigh’s fugitive Marion Crane lasts just three minutes in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror Psycho, but the slash marks on the collective unconscious have endured for decades. Documentarian Alexandre O. Philippe ( The People vs. George Lucas) goes deep in examining how the 78 camera set-ups and 52 edits of this scene (hence the title), combined to make these memorably macabre minutes perhaps second only to the Zapruder film of JFK’s assassination as the mostscrutinized piece of celluloid ever.
It forever changed movies with its taboo-breaking voyeurism and nihilistic violence, driven to fever pitch by Bernard Herrmann’s much-imitated score. Stare through the peephole at terror that can’t be scrubbed away, in the fascinating company of such hardcore geeks as directors Guillermo del Toro, Peter Bogdanovich and Eli Roth, film editor Walter Murch, American Psycho author Brett Easton Ellis, Leigh’s scream-queen daughter Jamie Lee Curtis, Anthony Perkins’ son Osgood Perkins and Hitch’s granddaughter Tere Carrubba. Essential viewing, even if you have to watch through your fingers. PH
Jackie Chan’s role in The Foreigner is a big departure for an actor whose career has consisted of playing genial Joes with a knack for chop-socky action.