Synopsis – A rancher on the Arizona border becomes the unlikely defender of a young Mexican boy desperately fleeing the cartel assassins who’ve pursued him into the U.S.
My Take – I think we can all adhere to the fact that ever since Taken released twelve years ago, the Liam Neeson action thriller has become its own genre. And for good measure. Despite being 68 years old, the Northern Irish actor commands himself as a man onscreen you don’t want to get on the wrong side of, a factor which has been proven ill-advised course of action for film villains. Making him, over the last decade one of the most unlikely action stars.
However, with each passing film, I hate to admit it, but the action seems to be getting tamer and the stories even lamer by comparison, a fact which unfortunately sums up his latest film, which is both watchable and forgettable at the same time. Probably because it tries to breaks from the rhythm of Neeson‘s standard action fare by giving way to character over action set pieces in the most formulaic way possible.
With a tone and setting that hints at an impending exploration of morality through violence, writer-director Robert Lorenz’s follow-up to 2012’s Trouble With The Curve, plays more like a western drama than an action flick, albeit a familiar one. There is also surprisingly little political commentary included, which actually adds to the slowness and dryness of the material. Though there is real tenderness in the central relationship, it is highly marred with predictability and trope-filled inconsequential scenes that follow a hollow action thriller playbook genre step by step.
Nevertheless, if you are a fan (like myself), the 108 minute long film manages to be just alluring enough to house another solid Neeson performance, who once again feels more at home than his contemporaries.
The story follows Jim Hanson (Liam Neeson), a grizzled Arizona rancher, ex-Marine sharpshooter, and a recent widower who about to lose his home after his late wife’s medical bills have finally caught up to him. With nothing really left to do with his days, he spends most of his time near the U.S. Mexico border keeping an eye out for illegal immigrants and reporting them to the Border Patrol, which also employs his step daughter, Sarah (Katheryn Winnick).
During one of his strolls with his trusted canine companion, Jim comes across a mother, Rosa (Teresa Ruiz), and her son, Miguel (Jacob Perez), desperately crossing over, while being chased by some members of the cartel, led by Mauricio (Juan Pablo Raba), who is hell bent on kill them both. But when the subsequent shootout leaves a couple of people dead it ignites a cross-country cat-and-mouse chase, with Jim’s moral compass binds him to Miguel as his new guardian angel.
As engaging as this might sound, I think we all can agree that Neeson is a more than capable actor of pulling off a deeper exploration of that schism between country and self. The film wants to speak to some kind of old school, lone-ranger American hero type, but it’s too vague, shying away from any controversy, to say much at all, making it a particularly good or bad film.
The film is largely a road trip as Jim drives Miguel to his family. They’ve both suffered loss which serves as a pivot point for them as Jim softens toward Miguel. Director Robert Lorenz allows the film to breathe. It’s a slow burn but the looming threat of the cartel hot on their trail keeps the stakes in the back of your mind. At the forefront is Jim and Miguel’s bond, which mostly works even with a lukewarm script.
But while the film has a couple of nice set pieces, there are just as many missed opportunities, mainly as the script by Chris Charles, Danny Kravitz, and Lorenz is built on a generic story.
While you’ll enjoy the ride but there won’t be a single beat you can’t predict as everything unfolds as expected. The plot twists are obvious and when the film is mind-numbing, it attempts to wake you up with some violence, involving a young teenage grocery store attendant and a dog that is just over the top and out of line.
Some characterizations are lazy like Jim’s step-daughter who is present to provide exposition when needed or Maurico, who fits the Mexican gangster villain template. Plus any complexities in Jim’s character are washed away by the fact that he sees the potential ramifications of leaving Miguel in government protection and somehow comes away shocked. This is the arc of the protagonist. He finds out the law isn’t always just. Later he sees a corrupt police officer and is only barely surprised. It just took one moment of looking out for more than himself to realize that there might be something going on. Add to this the ease with which the cartel crosses the border. None of it is particularly deep and it all feels inconsequential by the end.
Nevertheless, there’s still something about seeing Liam Neeson evade the bad guys effortlessly and take them out that feels like fun. As expected, here, Neeson remains eminently watchable, and brings gruff heart to the weary rancher. Regardless of formulaic B-film status, he brings a certain weight to the material, elevating it past a cheesy stock action.
Young actor Joe Perez pulls his own weight manages to emote well. Despite the stock profile provided to him, Juan Pablo Raba seems to be having fun with his character. In smaller roles, Katheryn Winnick and Teresa Ruiz don’t have much to do. On the whole, ‘The Marksman’ is a comfortable familiar thriller which also happens to be the blandest of Liam Neeson’s recent set of action flicks.
Directed – Robert Lorenz
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 108 minutes