Liam Neeson returns in The Marksman, a simplistic but watchable low-key actioner. A struggling Arizona rancher defends a Mexican boy being hunted by ruthless drug cartel enforcers. The film focuses on the primary characters' burgeoning friendship as they escape on a long road trip. The chemistry between the leads carries the straightforward narrative. There are no surprises between the gunplay, which is not salacious or overly bloody. The Marksman is easily forgettable, but offers a welcome respite from the country's political turmoil.
Liam Neeson stars as Jim Hanson, a widowed Marine veteran on the verge of losing his Arizona border ranch. Jim protects his meager herd from predators with a hunting rifle near the security barrier. He's a crack sniper from two tours in Vietnam. Meanwhile in Mexico, Rosa (Teresa Ruiz) gets a terrifying call from her brother. He's being chased by the local drug cartel. Rosa grabs Miguel (Jacob Perez), her eleven-year-old son, and races out of their house.
Rosa pays a smuggler to take her and Miguel to a secret breach in the border fence. The cartel is hot on their trail as they attempt to sneak through. They run towards Jim's truck for help. He's about to call his stepdaughter (Katheryn Winnick), a border patrol agent, when the cartel arrives. The sicarios, led by the ruthless Mauricio (Juan Pablo Raba), underestimate the aged rancher. A firefight ensues with deadly consequences.
The Marksman is not a retread of Rambo on the border slaughtering drug goons en masse. The action scenes are depicted in a fairly realistic manner. A single bullet does the job when fired from a trained hand. Director Robert Lorenz (Trouble with the Curve), a frequent producer of Clint Eastwood films, gives his protagonist an old school sensibility. Jim is not an ass-kicking action hero, but quite effective in delivering violence. Liam Neeson is more relatable as the weathered soldier protecting a child.
The Marksman suffers from a lack of imagination. The story goes exactly as expected with no intrigue whatsoever. This is particularly evident in the cardboard supporting characters. Their dialogue could have been written by a robot. There are parts of the film that grind from inanity. The cartel can track Jim with relative ease, while the border patrol agents fumble to even trace a phone call. Jim's stepdaughter vanishes halfway through with no explanation. Her character's only purpose is to add a feeble, humanizing element.
Liam Neeson and young Jacob Perez make the most of their screen time. The pair spend the majority of the film together on the run. Their scripted lines aren't remarkable, but they have an interesting give and take. Their relationship provides much needed warmth. Perez understands the dire nature of his character's situation and exudes the proper gravitas. His resolve is evident, even when he's not speaking. He holds his own space with a Hollywood titan. The casting agent clearly found the right child actor.
The Marksman benefits from the tumultuous news of the day. It's a rote action film with a smidgen of heart, but a much needed diversion from the shocking insurrection. I'd probably be more critical under different circumstances. The Marksman provides a welcome escape with brainless entertainment. The Marksman is a production of Briarcliff Entertainment. It will be released theatrically on January 15th by Open Road Films.