Directed by: Robert Lorenz
Premise: A widowed rancher (Liam Neeson) living on the U.S.-Mexico border encounters a preteen boy (Jacob Perez) fleeing drug cartel thugs. He escorts the boy to Chicago with the cartel’s hitmen in pursuit.
What Works: The Marksman is the latest Liam Neeson actioner but this film is a bit more nuanced than some of the actor’s other shoot-’em-up pictures. While The Marksman doesn’t get to the level of The Grey, the new film does emphasize its characters and has a restrained use of violence. The film pairs Liam Neeson with young actor Jacob Perez. Neeson’s character is a rancher who has fallen on hard times and is disillusioned with his life. He has a chance encounter with a boy whose family has crossed a drug cartel and the boy is fleeing for his life. Neeson excels in playing exhausted men of violence and The Marksman uses Neeson well but also gives him a bit more to do. This is a good example of the way characters are defined by choices; Neeson’s character is put into a position where he has to choose whether to get involved or turn his back on this boy and his choice to act defines his character. The rancher’s journey with the boy renews his sense of purpose and gives him a character arc. Jacob Perez plays the young boy and he is also quite good. In a brief space of time, Perez’s character has lost his home and his family and Perez carries that grief throughout his performance. The way Perez’s character opens up to the rancher is credible and organic and conveys a lot of pathos without resorting to melodrama. The Marksman does an admirable job including little details that give the story credibility. The cartel rummages through the rancher’s house and gets his banking information, allowing them to track his trail of charges. The filmmakers set up little details like damage to the car engine that pay off later. This same kind of thoughtfulness is put into the set pieces. The action of The Marksman is admirably restrained. Like their title character, the filmmakers strike carefully and deliberately. The violence maintains credible dimensions consistent with the tone of the picture.
What Doesn’t: The story of The Marksman is very familiar. This is a contemporary western and there is a lot of Logan in it; that 2017 film was inspired by the 1953 western Shane. Once again a grizzled old warrior reluctantly escorts a youngster while pursued by villains. The characters of The Marksman are distinguished enough to make the material engaging but the film never shakes the sense that we’ve seen this story before.
Bottom Line: The Marksman is an example of a formulaic story done well. The characters and the narrative are rendered with a lot of detail that elevates the material. This is a familiar story but it’s unusually well executed.
Episode: #846 (April 4, 2021)