The Marksman

As she prepares lunch for her young son Miguel (Jacob Perez), Rosa (Teresa Ruiz) gets a call from her brother telling her she has to leave immediately to avoid the retribution raining down on him from a Mexican cartel.  She’ll lose her life to them at the border, where a lone rancher, Jim Hanson (Liam Neeson), promises to get her son to relatives in Chicago in “The Marksman.”

Laura's Review: B-

Is it any wonder “The Marksman” feels like Liam Neeson’s Clint Eastwood movie?  Cowriter (with Chris Charles and Danny Kravitz)/director Robert Lorenz ("Trouble with the Curve") cut his teeth with the man he’d assisted as first unit director from 1997’s “Absolute Power” through “Million Dollar Baby,” including a snippet of “Hang ‘Em High” in a motel room scene here. Neeson’s late career roles have largely been in action films, for better or for worse, but although this one’s formulaic, it’s well crafted all around, Neeson enjoying genuine moments with young Perez, cinematographer Mark Patten’s ("Morgan") widescreen lensing a huge plus.

In typical Eastwood fashion, we meet Jim as a troubled loner, the loss of his beloved wife to cancer leaving him on the verge of losing his home.  He experiences loss again in the very first scene we see him in, shooting the coyote that’d downed one of his calves.  He sees the four men he’ll soon be  opening fire on trudging along the border and calls in ‘4 IAs,’ but when Miguel darts out in front of his pickup and he offers Rosa the ‘help’ of the border patrol, she begs him not to call.  He’ll end up killing the brother of lead cartel member Maurico (Juan Pablo Raba, "The 33") protecting them.

Turns out, Jim has an ally at border patrol, his stepdaughter Sarah (Katheryn Winnick, TV's 'Vikings,' 'Big Sky'), who tells him Miguel will be turned over to foster care.  But another agent tells him the kid is being released to ‘relatives’ at the border and when Jim spies Mauricio and his big, black SUV, he takes the kid and runs, along with his loyal dog Jackson and the bag full of money Rosa offered him.

It is very well established that Jim is old school.  Tracking Jim via his license plate, Mauricio enters his abandoned ranch, taking his military medal as we note such things as an adding machine.  At a convenience store, Jim confuses the clerk by asking for a map book, but it takes him forever to figure out he’s being traced by his credit charges.  Along the fraught journey, continually endangered by a cartel aided by corrupt law enforcement, Jim draws Miguel out.  He’ll also teach the boy how to shoot, but also the horrible consequences of taking a life.  In return, Miguel does something miraculous – restores Jim’s faith.  The tough ex-Marine loner’s sentimental ending as a Guardian angel is sheer Eastwood.       

While there is little to surprise us here (except for one thing many will have a tough time with), “The Marksman” is a cut above many of Neeson’s more generic action outings.  The actor appears older than he has of late, in fitting with his widowed, lonely character, projecting an innate decency.  Young Perez is an excellent foil, withdrawn at first but gradually responding to the man he realizes is trying to help.  That bag of money becomes a brief source of contention before it is dealt with in a screenwriter’s ploy that fails to ring true, but the film largely earns its emotions.  Lorenz may be leaning on his Eastwood creds, but he’s found a good stand-in in Neeson, gotten a good performance from a child and staged various set pieces well in a handsome looking production.

Robin's Review: B

Jim Hanson (Liam Neeson) is a former Marine, decorated Vietnam veteran, cattle farmer and, just recently, a widower. The cost to care for his wife in her last days put him deep in debt and about to lose the farm. Across the nearby Mexican border, a mother and her young son are being hunted down by members of the Vasquez drug cartel. Their paths will soon cross in “The Marksman.”

Just reading a short synopsis of “The Marksman” from IMDB:

“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.”

I could not help but think of John Cassavetes’ “Gloria (1980)” starring his wife Gena Rowlands and, again from IMDB:

“When a young boy's family is killed by the mob, their tough neighbor Gloria becomes his reluctant guardian.”

So, I expected plenty of cliché with what I can only term a remake of the older film and that is what I got. Though, I have to admit, one key cliché I expected did not come to pass. All the rest, I was noting before the events happened.

That being said, long-time second unit director Robert Lorenz and co-scribes Chris Charles and Danny Kravitz use the many clichés and a game Liam Neeson to pull off an action-chase, buddy road flick that crosses half the country telling its tale.

Jim Hanson personal plight is made apparent within minutes of the opening credits and Liam Neeson gives him the gravitas of his conviction to save Manuel from harm.  You have seen the relentless bad guys many times before and, suitably, wish them ill. The rest is cookie cutter but well made nonetheless.