The Marksman Review
Since 2008’s Taken, Liam Neeson has occupied a very specific type of action film that tends to check off similar boxes in the screenwriting department. Reprising his role as the everyman who avenges someone close to him, Neeson never feels more at home than he does in a film like The Marksman. With a tone and setting that hints at an impending exploration of morality through violence, Robert Lorenz’s directorial follow-up to 2012’s Trouble With The Curve isn’t the most engaging or thoughtful film, but it’s sturdy enough to house another solid Neeson performance in an otherwise generic continuation of the many films in his recent filmography.
Living in an Arizona border town, Jim (Neeson) is a former Marine who is 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 border keeping an eye out for illegal immigrants and reporting them. When one mother and her son Miguel (Teresa Ruiz and Jacob Perez, respectively) are caught by Jim while trying to flee Mexico and escape the cartel hunting them down, Jim’s moral compass binds him to Miguel as his new guardian angel protecting him from the cartel.
The first thirty minutes of The Marksman tries to have a meaningful conversation about the role of the border patrol in the lives of illegal immigrants. Jim is a patriot who keeps to himself since his wife’s passing, but can’t resist helping those in need. He is the fallible hero whose “mistakes” are a betrayal to his country’s laws, but those lead to concrete moral decisions that support the foundation of his character. He’s a flawed man whose steadfast convictions cannot be broken. Early on Jim sees the potential outcome of leaving Miguel in the care of the government and realizes that regardless of his belief in the law, he must take things into his own hands.
The Marksman isn’t a bad film, it just doesn’t do much to position itself any higher than familiar and comfortable.
As engaging as this might sound – and Neeson is a more than capable actor of pulling off a deeper exploration of that schism between country and self – it’s all painful to sit through. Any complexities in Jim’s character is 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 (legally, I might add) and The Marksman just seems like someone learned about corruption for the first time. None of it is particularly deep and it all feels inconsequential by the end.
Instead, The Marksman uses that first act to lead into a road trip between Miguel and Jim as they bond and become attached to one another. All the while they’re being chased by the cartel until the film finally finds its footing in a more familiar action/thriller role for Neeson. The climax is genuinely well-made even if it’s built on the back of a bland villain and generic story. There’s still something about seeing Neeson evade the bad guys effortlessly and take them out that feels fun. However, the screenplay seems aware of the power of that and foolishly holds back until the final act.
The Marksman shares a lot of DNA with Clint Eastwood’s filmography (Lorenz has worked as assistant director on many Eastwood films) and it became clear by the end that Neeson himself has been fortifying a character that seems similar to an Eastwood role. Both actors tend to gravitate towards characters with a moral backbone in a corrupt society, or find themselves lunged into an immoral predicament. Perhaps this is why both Eastwood and Neeson are so watchable as actors. Scenarios that audiences see as morally wrong are where the two often find themselves and they carry an air of honesty. We know justice will prevail. Which is why The Marksman isn’t a bad film, it just doesn’t do much to position itself any higher than familiar and comfortable. It’s what audiences expect from a Liam Neeson film, and while it still contains its fair share of questionable decisions, there’s an undeniable heart to its protagonist that keeps it just entertaining enough until the end.
- Christopher Cross