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The Marksman Review

January 15, 2021 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
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The Marksman Review  

Directed by: Robert Lorenz
Written by: Chris Charles & Danny Kravitz and Robert Lorenz

Liam Neeson – Jim
Jacob Perez – Miguel
Juan Pablo Raba – Maurico
Katheryn Winnick – Sarah
Teresa Ruiz Teresa Ruiz – Rosa
Luce Rains – Everett Crawford

Running Time: 100 minutes
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, violence, and some bloody images.

There’s something to be said about how actors are able to elevate the films they’re in. Some do it by just acting their way through the rough spots, making their project good through a sheer force of will. For others, they simply ease back and let the material change around them by virtue of their personas. Liam Neeson fits in the latter category. We’ve seen it before and often; the star has marked much of his post-Taken career by elevating run of the mill thrillers simply by lending his easy-going Irish-lilting gravitas to the central characters. (Exhibits A through D: Unknown, The Commuter, Run All Night, and A Walk Among the Tombstones.)

Neeson’s latest effort, The Marksman, is better positioned than his collaborations with Jaume Collet-Serra. It may follow down those familiar roads, plunging his lead character into a situation he didn’t ask for and letting him Liam Neeson his way through some action-thriller motifs, but Robert Lorenz’s film, which arrives in theaters on Friday, elevates itself by way of a better script that blends Neeson’s typical film persona with that of a longtime Lorenz collaborator in Clint Eastwood.

Neeson stars in the film as Jim Hanson, a widower and ex-Marine (hence the title) living in solitude on his ranch in Arizona. Jim is in debt due to the medical bills from his wife’s passing of cancer; while his stepdaughter Sarah (Katheryn Winnick), a US Border Patrol officer, worries about him living out there alone, Jim worries that he’ll lose the land he scattered his beloved’s ashes on.

All of that quickly washes away when Jim encounters a woman named Rosa (Teresa Ruiz) frantically bringing her 11-year-old son Miguel (Jacob Perez) across the border with a group of drug cartel assassins right behind. One shootout and a few complications later, Jim finds himself travelling with Miguel up north to bring him to family with both the hitmen and authorities on his trail.

If all that sounds a little too topical and on the nose, worry not; The Marksman doesn’t have wide aspirations to start any conversations. You can certainly infer certain assumptions based on the script, credited to Chris Charles, Danny Kravitz, and Lorenz. But Jim is played as fairly apolitical. He calls in any sightings he has of “IAs,” sure, but he also shows a lot of concern for the well-being of those undocumented immigrants. And while the cartel thugs are clearly bad guys in every sense of that term, there are a couple of moments that give them a bit more nuance than you might expect.

They’re wise decisions for Lorenz to make, because that’s not what kind of film this is. You don’t go to a Liam Neeson action thriller named The Marksman in order to hear nuanced debate about the ins and outs of America’s immigration policies. But neither is it an adrenaline-fueled thrill ride with Neeson wading his way through Mexican villains Rambo: Last Blood-style. Instead, the film is more interested in the relationship between Jim and Miguel, a pairing that is hostile and reluctant at first but grows over the course of their journey. It’s anchored by Neeson’s weary, booze-soaked portrayal of a man who just wants to do the decent thing – initially for a very wrong reason, though the more Jim gets to know Miguel, the more Neeson is able to let his more soulful aspects out.

That’s not to say there isn’t action or tension, because there is. Lorenz balances the more viscerally exciting elements with Neeson’s character work. It’s the kind of work that he clearly developed during his work with Eastwood on films like Blood Work, Million Dollar Baby, and Gran Turino, all of which he produced. The latter film seems like the clearest comparison here and while there’s not as much depth as in that 2008 film, you can see its fingerprints all over this. Eastwood himself even pseudo-cameos with a clip of Hang ‘Em High appearing on a motel television. In some ways, this film actually serves as a love letter to what is probably its own Netflix category in Old Crotchety Clint Eastwood Films.

If a little extra time had been devoted to everything around that central dynamic between Jim and Miguel, The Marksman had a real chance to be elevated to the next level. That core of the film holds up quite well, but what’s around it seems a little too familiar to match up or too extraneous to seem necessary. Katheryn Winnick in particular does fine work as Sarah, but her character is essentially there to field calls from her stepdad and remind us that federal authorities are looking for Jim and Miguel too. Some of the story beats come off as overly broad as well, and a couple character decisions on the lead duo’s parts – not to mention a few from Raba’s ruthless Maurico – come off as cases of character logic being sacrificed to get the story from one point to another.

In the end though, these flaws only wing The Marksman and don’t take it down. Lorenz draws enough heart from the central story to keep this a head or two above most of Neeson’s recent work, and the other actors hold their own even in those thankless roles. (It helps that it’s a fairly gorgeous film too, thanks to Mark Patten’s cinematography.) In the end, this may not be the Liam Neeson action vehicle fans were expecting, but that just makes it a little more refreshing – which in 2021, is something I think we all could use.

The final score: review Good
The 411
The Marksman represents the latest entry in Liam Neeson's post-Taken career playing grizzled older guy who is too tired for the mess he's found himself in, but does it because somebody has to. It ranks as a higher-tier entry of this part of his resume, wearing clear affection for Clint Eastwood's similar career thanks to director Robert Lorenz's collaborations with the latter. The action scenes work, but it's the dynamic between Neeson and young Jacob Perez that really carries the film. After so much time getting revenge for his family, this is a different sort of action-oriented Neeson that I wouldn't necessarily mind seeing a few more times on the screen.