The Marksman, 2021.
Directed by Robert Lorenz.
Starring Liam Neeson, Jacob Perez, Katheryn Winnick, Teresa Ruiz, Juan Pablo Raba, Dylan Kenin, Luce Rains, Chase Mullins, and Christopher Mele.
A rancher on the Arizona border becomes the unlikely defender of a young Mexican boy desperately fleeing the cartel assassins who’ve pursued him into the U.S.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Liam Neeson plays a grieving loner with a service record background thrust into a protector role. Okay, so director Robert Lorenz (he also wrote the script alongside Chris Charles and Danny Kravitz) is not doing anything particularly new with the star’s action renaissance for The Marksman, but such safe choices play to the strengths of a movie decidedly about Liam Neeson escorting an undocumented child away from the deadly cartel that has murdered his mother and uncle, all the way to Chicago to start a new life with extended family.
Living as a rancher near the US-Mexico border, Jim (Liam Neeson, although at this point his character names are irrelevant all blending together into the same blueprint) has been hit with the unexpected news that his ranch is going to be sold off. He hasn’t had the funds to make payments given that all of his money went towards his wife battling cancer. It also just so happens that he comes across young Miguel (newcomer Jacob Perez who deserves credit for finding the necessary chemistry with Liam Neeson to make the bonding segments work well enough) fleeing both his homeland and a gang that has seemingly had a vice grip over his family for as long as he is been alive (we never really learn how Miguel’s father died, just that it happened before he was born).
Initially, Jim wants nothing to do with the boy and is content to let US Customs handle the situation. It’s a short-lived thought process for a combination of reasons; he learns that Miguel will not be granted asylum and will pretty much be sent back to Mexico to die at the hands of the cartel (led by a menacing and towering bald leader covered in a large reptile tattoo over his face) and that the boy is unknowingly carrying around a sizable sum of dirty money capable of solving his financial woes. With that in mind, Jim breaks the boy out of confinement and starts the cross country journey of lost and lonely souls with nowhere to go, accompanied by a trusty dog companion for good measure.
As mentioned, Liam Neeson and Jacob Perez do their respective parts to make The Marksman hit its simple and broad targets (condemnation of the land of the free shunning away immigrants and the difficulties of obtaining citizenship, helping and learning from one another, and bursts of carnage throughout), but the amateurish script shows. Not only does it become preposterous how quickly and effectively the two on the run can be tracked by the cartel (even after Jim catches on to the more believable ways it can be accomplished), there’s a few unnecessary sappy moments of forced moral high ground. Both are spoilers, but there are two especially groan-inducing sanctimonious moments towards the end I wish I was spared from.
Fortunately for director Robert Lorenz (who does stage an impressive climactic action sequence with one sick use of a rifle on a vehicle), the narrative sticks to the characters just enough hoping Jim and Miguel find some light at the end of the tunnel. Of course, a better film would have more character work and fewer plot contrivances/cheesy monologues about Jim’s late wife spiritually guiding him through this crisis. And even though the villains are mostly cartel stereotypes, there’s an appreciated exchange towards the end making the distinction that joining those ranks was not necessarily a choice. Miguel, however, deserves a choice, as do all Americans born here or not, which makes it so easy to root for Jim fighting back and doing the right thing even if he does also stand something to gain from doing so.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com