Second Liam Neeson action film to be released on the Friday during MLK Weekend, after The Commuter (2018). See more »
The final scene supposedly takes place in Chicago, Illinois area, but as Liam Neeson steps into the bus, Hausfrau Record Shop [ only location is in Cleveland, Ohio, nearly 400 miles away from Chicago ] is seen in the background. See more »
Full disclosure: I've always liked Liam Neeson as a movie star. Despite his questionable status as an action hero in his sixties, he's an institution. From "Taken" (2008) to "Honest Thief" (2020) he's a reliably likable screen presence. Regardless of formulaic B-movie status, he brings a certain weight to the material, elevating it past a cheesy stock action. So with measured expectations, we're kicking off 2021 cinema with the latest entry in his list of tough guy films. This time we find Neeson playing grizzled Vietnam vet Jim Hanson. A widower and rancher, Jim's land runs along the Arizona-Mexico border, leading his path to cross with Rosa (Teresa Ruiz) and her son Miguel (Jacob Perez) as they flee from cartel soldier Maurico (Juan Pablo Raba, "Narcos"). After a shootout and escape, Rosa dies, leaving Miguel in Jim's care with the promise he would deliver the boy to family in Chicago.
"The Marksman" breaks from the rhythm of Liam Neeson's standard action fare by giving way to character over action set pieces. 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. Writer/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 works even with a lukewarm script. Neeson brings gruff heart to the weary rancher, and newcomer Perez pulls his own weight. Time and care is devoted to the two so when the predictable final conflict arrives we're invested in their fates. By using action sparingly and focusing on character Lorenz separates this from most of Neeson's romps.
Certain setbacks come with the territory for films like this. For example, you can bet you'll enjoy the ride but there won't be a single beat you can't predict. Everything unfolds as expected. The script is serviceable but it's nothing very memorable. Some characterizations are lazy like Jim's step-daughter who is present to provide exposition when needed. Or the villain Maurico, who fits the gangster villain template. Raba has fun with him and he makes him quite watchable but there simply isn't much to go off of. It's no fault of the actors, the script just focuses all development to the two leads. The plot is pretty bare, just a straightforward rescue and delivery that moves the film along until it abruptly ends.
"The Marksman" just manages to rise above most stock action B-movies with a strong lead and surprising heart. It really plays like more of a drama than action, with only two action set pieces (one in the beginning, one in the end). In between is a character growth that brings weight to the big obvious finale. Jim and Miguel change each other; there's a real tenderness that develops that for all the film's predictability, I unexpectedly enjoyed.
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