Film Reviews

The Foreigner Amos Poe

Rating - 7/10

European secret agent Max Menace has arrived in New York for a top secret assignment - only to discover that there is no assignment and his spy contact knows nothing about him. We follow Max, a European who is alone and abandoned in New York, trying to make some kind of sense the city and find a purpose for his being there.

The film follows Max during his existential search-and-destroy mission alone in late Seventies New York. The film is shot on sensationally grainy black and white 16mm film, featuring performances from The Cramps and The Erasers, alongside a menagerie of city-tough punks and glamourpusses, and is shot in some (in)famous New York locations.

Max Menace, mysterious stranger, and the World Trade Centre

New York itself is like another barmy character in the film, bearing down on Max Menace ominously.  It is framed in long, static un-staged shots of busy roadways, or else fixated on tiny details like a punk wearing an old key as a necklace or the neon ‘Hotel Chelsea’ sign.  It is like a zoo that makes or breaks you, and we see it here from the bottom up: from dirty alleyways to the World Trade Centre; from the CBGBs fleapit to the industrialised beaches surrounding the city.

Max wanders the streets and attempts to connect to other humans: a French guy in an alleyway with whom he shares a prosaic conversation with almost passionate, but restrained, intensity.  He even attempts a relationship with a woman in her bare New York apartment, but to no avail: she toys with him and then ignores him.  Other New York characters include a slightly-intimidating dominatrix spy who hires an equally glamorous and dirty-looking Private Investigator to track Max down, and the bored Debbie Harry, trussed up like a Teddy Boy and loitering in an alleyway doing Marlene Dietrich impersonations in exchange for cigarettes. Anything could happen in New York, and by extension, anything could happen in this film.

It is no self-consciously ‘quirky’ movie that might star someone like Michael Cera, complete with kooky world view, ironic sense of humour and a retro soundtrack. Nor is it any kind of ‘independent’ Hollywood flick, out to blow you away with grimy and grim dramatic realism, despite this film’s spy thriller pretences. The Foreigner is, in fact, the real deal: blood and guts film-making. Shot on a shoe string, with low production values, a meandering storyline and a purposefully unemotional performance from star Eric Mitchell which is coupled with some decidedly stagey non-actor performances and botched sound recording (though the indomitable soundtrack, provided by the Ivan Kral, is exemplary).

This is not a film all about story nor does it adhere to many other film-making conventions. It is dedicated to texture, atmosphere, reality and the experience of watching it. It describes the point of view of a group of New Yorkers and their way of life, showing us a time and a place, unfiltered and untouched by convention or commercialism and at its most raw and pure. For this reason, the film will probably attract as many haters as lovers, but its honest and unexpectedly beautiful portrayal of a moment in time, so far removed from here and now, is intoxicating and unforgettable.