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THE MARKSMAN (2021) review

January 21, 2021


written by: Robert Lorenz, Chris Charles and Danny Kravitz
produced by: Tai Duncan, Mark Williams, Warren Goz, Eric Gold & Robert Lorenz
directed by: Robert Lorenz
rating: PG-13 (for violence, some bloody images and brief strong language)
runtime: 108 min.
U.S. release date: January 15, 2021 (theatrical)


Everyone is hoping for 2021 to be better (or at least different) from 2020, but here we are in January with “The Marksman”, with the release of a Liam Neeson thriller and it feels like any other year. Since “Taken” was released in January 2008, the Oscar-nominated actor has headlined a handful of other thrillers (“Unknown”, “Taken 3”, and “The Commuter”) to kick off the new year and maybe there’s comfort in that. You know what you’re getting into when a new Neeson flick drops in January and this one doesn’t stray too far off from what you’d expect, but just don’t go in expecting a bloody-knuckled actioner. Just about every beat of the story is predictable in “The Marksman”, but you may be surprised that the drama of the story edges ahead out the inevitable shooting and car chases offered.

Neeson plays Jim Hanson, a former marine who served two tours in Vietnam and now resides on the Arizona side of the Mexican border as a sad and lonely widower. His late wife’s daughter, Sarah (Katheryn Winnick, “Vikings”), checks in on him, concerned by his isolation, hoping he won’t slip back into alcohol to escape. It doesn’t help that the bank is giving him ninety days to pay up or they’ll take away his property. It doesn’t matter to them that he buried his wife on the property and that just about all of his money went to her medical bills.



Jim keeps to himself and drives around in an old pick-up truck with his faithful good-boy-of-a-dog Jackson in the passenger seat, with a rifle and radio nearby. The rifle is to fend off coyotes from his cattle and the radio is his direct line to Border Patrol (where Sarah works) in case he comes across anyone crossing the border into U.S. soil. He’s not out to get anyone seeking a better life in the States in trouble, it’s just that he doesn’t want to wind up finding their dead (or nearly dead) bodies on his property.

One afternoon he slams on the brakes to prevent running over a young boy and his mother, both of whom had just made their way through an opening in the border fence. They are desperate to move on with the mother tightly holding on to a bag of stolen cartel cash, but Jim stops them and radios in their presence. Rosa (Teresa Ruiz) begs Jim not to report her and her son, Miquel (Jacob Perez), but the three are suddenly interrupted by an SUV that pulls up on the Mexican side of the border with Vasquez cartel enforcer, Mauricio (Juan Pablo Raba, “Narcos”) accompanied by armed goons.

A standoff occurs, with the cartel demanding the boy and his mother return with them, which in no time turns into an flurry of gunfire, in which Jim takes one of them out. The fatal exchange leaves Rosa dead and Jim left with honoring her final wishes of reuniting her son with family in Chicago. Reluctant at first, Jim eventually sees that he is likely the only one who can help out Miquel, knowing that the cartel will not relent until they get what they want. The boy has no other choice but to go along with Jim and soon the pair are on the road with a concerned Sarah and a furious Mauricio trying to track them down across America.



The Marksman” is co-written and directed by Robert Lorenz, who’s worked on several Clint Eastwood films as a first assistant or second unit director, from “The Bridges of Madison County” to “American Sniper” and who last helmed “Trouble with the Curve” starring Eastwood. That’s fitting, considering the screenplay Lorenz wrote with Chris Charles and Danny Kravitz revolves around a character Eastwood could’ve easily played some twenty-five years ago. While many recognize that Neeson has had something of a action thriller emphasis in his career since “Taken”, recent films such as “Ordinary Love” and “Made in Italy” serve to remind viewers of the actor’s range. But hey, playing damaged and flawed loners who find purpose and/or redemption in reluctant heroism is a steady gig.

Initially, the story here feels like a better version of Stallone’s “Last Blood” as it creates a more plausible and interesting look at an isolated veteran, and in this case with the added grief of a widower. “The Marksman” could’ve delved into Mexico/U.S. border drama, but this isn’t a play at mild politics at best and probably better for it. The problem here is how the storyline is so concerned with building up the antagonists as a mounting threat without giving them much beyond a cliched cartel characterization until the very end and by then it’s too little too late.

Also, there are one too many deliberate camera shots (from cinematographer Mark Patten) that give away plot points and story beats in a glaringly obvious manner. For example, Miquel accidentally drops an atlas as he exits Jim’s pick-up, falling to the gravel unbeknownst to him or Jim. In a previous scene, Lorenz had just shown the boy circling Chicago as their final destination. Because of this shot, the likelihood of “the bad guys” finding that atlas and flipping to that particular page is strong and that’s just a bit too on-the-nose for my liking. Once egregious example of foreboding is how the writers establish the bond between Jim and his dog. As a dog lover, how that plays out pissed me off. As someone who’s watched a movie or two before, it just comes across as lazy.



While much of the action feels formulaic and predictable, the drama that develops between this old veteran and an immigrant boy becomes the draw of the movie. It helps that Neeson does a fine job conveying this patriotic yet disillusioned protagonist, with an underlying fatigue and bitterness that plagues him. As the mostly quiet Miquel, Jacob Perez really doesn’t have to do much, but he expresses a certain amount of placid soulfulness, portraying a character who’s seen way too much of life’s harshness for his young age. The moments when Jim and Miquel are on the road trying to figure each other out are the best, yet there’s this gnawing feeling that the movie can’t simple settle for a character reliant feature.

Still, it’s better than many VOD releases (pick any recent movie with Bruce Willis or John Travolta – yes, they’re still making movies), but it’s clear “The Marksman” could’ve been something more impacting. That being said, the movie’s third act has some interesting dark turns that I appreciated, feeling much less routine than what transpired earlier in the story. If only the screenplay would’ve shown elements of such boldness throughout.

“The Marksman” is the second Open Road Films pandemic release for Neeson, following last October’s theatrical release of “Honest Thief” and how it will fare is really up in the air, considering how many movie theaters are still closed and COVID-19 isn’t leaving the States anytime soon.



RATING: **1/2



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