Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

10/18/2017

 

The Foreigner
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — Jackie Chan takes a sharp turn from his typically genial screen personality to become the vengeful father of a London terrorist victim in “The Foreigner” (STX).

In this efficiently suspenseful adaptation of Stephen Leather’s pulp thriller “The Chinaman,” director Martin Campbell and screenwriter David Marconi have produced an unembroidered drama about resurgent Irish Republican Army violence and bureaucratic treachery.

There are explosions aplenty as well as displays of military survival skills and quite a few of Chan’s well-timed kicks and punches. None of the protagonist’s bombs are intended to damage anything but property, however.

He’s grieving dad Ngoc Minh Quan, and he’s trying to get the attention of government officials any way he can. As a former American-trained guerrilla during the Vietnam War, moreover, he’s as adept at explosives and trap-setting as any urban terrorist.

Vigilantism is always a troubling theme, so, despite his precautions — he also avoids using guns — it’s disturbing that Quan is meant to be cheered in the manner of a cowboy hero as he searches for justice.

Although the story has a modern setting, the source novel, written in 1992, was published five years before the IRA’s cease-fire with the British forces in Northern Ireland. So, while Irish terrorism seems anachronistic here, the idea is that mass killings are everywhere and that a parent’s quest is universal.

On the strength of his personality and the intelligence of the script, Chan also escapes any ugly stereotypes of a wily, inscrutable Asian.

After his daughter Fan (Katie Leung) is murdered in a bombing that kills 19, Quan, who also lost his wife and two other daughters to Thai pirates while escaping China years before, expects to see Fan’s killers arrested through the usual channels. But Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan), a deputy prime minister with substantial political ambitions, is slow to respond and unco-operative once he does.

Quan then attempts to bribe a police inspector, Richard Bromley (Ray Fearon). But when that effort fails, he focuses all his energy on Hennessy, whose old ties to the IRA are as complicated as his relationships with his wife and mistress.

The result is a multilayered story that, although telegraphing many plot points too soon, avoids cynicism and makes for a taut journey, albeit one with a high body count.

The film contains a vigilantism theme, gun and physical violence, fleeting gore, implied sexual activity, a few profanities and frequent rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

Only the Brave
By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — The heartbreaking true story of an elite Arizona firefighting team comes to the big screen in “Only the Brave” (Columbia).

In 2013, the Granite Mountain Hotshots — as the group was known — risked their lives and raced into a raging inferno to save a neighbouring town from destruction. Given more recent fire calamities, their striking example of heroism, brotherhood and self-sacrifice is both timely and inspiring.

Only the country’s top wildland firefighters earn the designation “hotshots.” These squads, the Navy SEALS of firefighting, are deployed across the country, wherever the need is most extreme.

In Prescott, Arizona, Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) has dreamed for years of earning hotshot status for his 20-member crew. With Jesse Steed (James Badge Dale) as his right-hand man, Marsh has honed them into a well-oiled firefighting machine.

The diverse bunch includes Chris MacKenzie (Taylor Kitsch), a ladies’ man and prankster, and Clayton Whitted (Scott Haze), a youth minister who keeps his Bible handy. Most are young, newly married, and have children, which injects additional drama and poignancy into the saga. Marsh’s wife, Amanda (Jennifer Connelly), epitomizes the lonely existence of the spouses, constantly anxious for their husbands’ safety.

“It’s not easy sharing your man with a fire,” says Marvel Steinbrink (Andie MacDowell), wife of Duane (Jeff Bridges), the local fire chief.

During a recruitment drive, an unlikely candidate appears: Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller). He has led a dissolute life of drugs and crime and, after a one-night stand, is now a father.

This has turned out to be a major wake-up call. Before long, McDonough is running drills with Marsh’s crew, learning to clear brush, dig trenches, and create controlled burns, which contain a fire by taking away its source of fuel.

When all else fails, the men crawl inside makeshift shelters, large reflective bags which — they hope — let the fire pass safely over them. “It’s gonna feel like the end of the world,” Marsh warns. “As long as you can breathe, you can survive.”

In adapting a magazine article by Sean Flynn, director Joseph Kosinski (“Tron: Legacy”) deftly juggles the intimate stories of the men’s personal lives with grand set pieces which evoke the sheer terror and destructive force of the flames they battle. Although the ending is well-known, its impact is no less profound on screen. So the movie’s tagline, “It’s not what stands in front of you. It’s who stands beside you,” feels well earned.

The film contains scenes of extreme peril, mature themes, drug use, brief rear male nudity, several uses of profanity, pervasive crude language, some sexual banter and obscene gestures. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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