Liam Neeson as the world-weary protagonist in an action thriller has become its own successful subgenre. His particular set of skills led the Taken franchise to box office success. However, Neeson’s frequent collaboration with director Jaume Collet-Serra has yielded some of his best work in Unknown, Non-Stop, and The Commuter. After playing a vengeful snowplow driver in Cold Pursuit, Neeson headlined a pair of mediocre dramas in Honest Thief and The Marksman.
The Marksman is the type of drama that might have starred Clint Eastwood back in the early to mid-90’s. That makes perfect sense since the film was co-written and directed by Robert Lorenz, who worked with Eastwood on movies like Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, and the baseball drama Trouble with the Curve, Lorenz’s directorial debut.
Neeson plays Jim Hanson, a former Marine sharpshooter and Vietnam vet, living near the Arizona/Mexico border. His wife died of cancer and the ensuing medical bills left him in tremendous debt with the bank threatening to foreclose on his ranch. There’s not much left as Hanson has had to sell pieces of his land and some underfed cattle to stay above water.
While patrolling the border fence, Hanson comes across Rosa (Teresa Ruiz) and her son Miguel (Jacob Perez), who are being chased by the ruthless Mauricio (Juan Pablo Raba). Rosa’s brother, Carlos (Alfredo Quiroz), stole thousands of dollars from the cartel and they will kill anybody in their path to retrieve the cash. Hanson refuses to turn them over and Rosa is mortally wounded in the subsequent shootout. He reluctantly agrees to take Miguel to family in Chicago in exchange for the stolen money with Mauricio in hot pursuit with assistance from authorities on the cartel’s payroll.
Don’t expect The Marksman to be a balls-to-the-wall action flick like some of Neeson’s other pictures. The story is straight-forward and predictable with the protagonists on the run until the inevitable climatic showdown. There’s not a lot of bite to the script as Lorenz and co-writers Chris Charles and Danny Kravitz walk a tenuous tightrope while trying not to be overtly political. Hanson makes no big speeches one way or the other about Rosa and Miguel’s right to stay in America. He’s more concerned with following the letter of the law and the possibility they might succumb to the elements. Hanson does mention the boy’s chances of being granted asylum are slim due to the country’s current climate.
Aside from government bureaucracy and apathy, the main antagonists are the typical selection of gun-toting henchmen. These villains are the standard variety of cardboard caricatures though Juan Pablo Raba of Narcos fame does his menacingly best. Neeson can pull off the world-weary tough guy role with ease, but it’s his young co-star that steals the spotlight. Jacob Perez makes his movie debut here and gives a natural performance whenever he’s on screen. Rounding out the main cast is Katheryn Winnick as Hanson’s stepdaughter, Sarah, a tough Border Patrol agent. Sadly, her character is mostly reduced to pleading and worrying about our hero.
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The transfer is picture perfect with a nice real world color palette. You can see the dust caked on Jim Hanson’s pickup truck and the weathering of his blue jeans.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Sound design is well done, but nothing extraordinary, even during the action-oriented sequences.
The bonus material is scant with the only featurette being The Making of the Marksman (8:19), a typical look behind-the-scenes with snippets of interviews with the cast and crew.
Film Value: 6
The Marksman is a well-executed drama, but there’s nothing that makes it stand out above dozens of similar films. At least, this modernized Western is buoyed by the presence of Liam Neeson and strong performances from a game supporting cast.