Liam Neeson plays an ex-Marine sharpshooter attempting to protect a young boy from a Mexican cartel in Robert Lorenz’s action thriller.
Liam Neeson continues the Charles Bronson phase of his lengthy career with Robert Lorenz’s action thriller representing the actor’s second starring effort in three months. Arriving shortly on the heels of Honest Thief, The Marksman is the sort of solid, unassuming programmer that Bronson pumped out with regularity in the ’70s and ’80s. Think of something like 1974’s Mr. Majestyk, except in this case the reluctant hero forced to deal with bad guys is an Arizona rancher rather than a Colorado melon farmer. In both cases, the star — and the film — gets the job done.
It’s not that Neeson’s character, Jim Hanson, a former Marine sharpshooter (natch), wants any trouble. He’s still grieving over the recent death of his wife, his ranch is being threatened with foreclosure, and he’s the sort of deceptively gentle soul who coos to his elderly mutt, “Who’s the best dog in the world?” But he’s forced into action when he witnesses a young migrant woman, Rosa (Teresa Ruiz), and her 11-year-old son Miguel (Jacob Perez) fleeing from a gang of drug cartel killers. Hanson manages to hold them at bay, but not without Rosa being killed in the shootout. In her dying moments, she begs him to take her son to the safety of her relatives in Chicago.
When Miguel is subsequently detained by border authorities, Hanson lets his conscience get the better of him and manages to surreptitiously spirit the boy out, much to the consternation of his border patrol officer daughter Sarah (Katheryn Winnick, Vikings). Thus begins the cross-country chase between Hanson and the killers, led by the bloodthirsty Mauricio (Juan Pablo Raba of Narcos, impressively menacing), who’s less interested in the boy than the large sum of drug money he has in his possession.
It all plays out about as predictably as you expect. The character delineation in the screenplay co-written by Lorenz, Chris Charles and Danny Kravitz mainly revolves around establishing Hanson as the sort of crusty curmudgeon who eschews modern technology like cell phones. “Nobody needs to call me and I like it like that,” he growls to the disbelieving Miguel. Of course, his Luddite tendencies lead to problems, including his attempting to buy a road atlas when the teenage convenience store clerk has no idea what it is. On the other hand, he definitely hasn’t lost his sharpshooting skills honed in the Vietnam War.
The film is most effective not in the relatively brief action sequences — although a climactic shoot-out is well orchestrated — but rather in its depiction of the growing bond between Hanson and the young boy he’s risking his life to protect. This is where Neeson’s too-often underutilized (these days, at least) sensitivity as an actor kicks in, making the formulaic relationship feel credible and organic. It helps that child actor Perez matches him beat for beat, displaying a naturalism all the more impressive considering that this represents his first feature credit.
Director Lorenz is a longtime collaborator of Clint Eastwood, having produced such Best Picture Oscar nominees as Mystic River, Letters from Iwo Jima and American Sniper as well as directing Trouble with the Curve; it’s easy to imagine that had this picture been made ten or 20 years ago, Eastwood would have been the star. The movie displays the measured pacing and tautness marking many of Eastwood’s films, and Neeson delivers an Eastwood-style performance while also revealing an emotional vulnerability that proves fully relatable. It’s easy to see how his distinctive combination of mature rugged masculinity and Irish soulfulness has made him a perfect action hero for these complicated times.
Available in theaters
Production companies: Sculptor Media, Zero Gravity Management, Stonehouse Motion Pictures
Distributor: Open Road Films
Cast: Liam Neeson, Kathryn Winnick, Juan Pablo Raba, Teresa Ruiz
Director: Robert Lorenz
Screenwriters: Robert Lorenz, Chris Charles, Danny Kravitz
Producers: Tai Duncan, Mark Williams, Warren Goz, Eric Gold, Robert Lorenz
Executive producers: Nicholas Chartier, Jonathan Deckter, Mark David Katchur, James Masciello
Director of photography: Mark Patten
Production designer: Charisse Cardenas
Editor: Luis Carballar
Composer: Sean Callery
Costume designer: Peggy Stamper
Casting: Lilian Pyles
Rated PG-13, 107 min.