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.