The Marksman Movie Review: A largely stereotypical story with some good acting
An in-form Liam Neeson and an intriguing anti-violence message aren’t quite enough to save this movie from its own cliches
The Marksman finds itself in a long list of predictable action thrillers, but despite the nature of things, it is an oddly watchable film. The main reason for that is Liam Neeson, of course (a fine actor, typecast or otherwise). Young Joe Perez, who plays second fiddle to the big star, doesn’t do his reputation any harm, either. If acting is the benchmark we are going by here, one would expect the story to come through more than it actually does. All the standard tropes are thrown in for good measure: A retired marine with his best years behind him; illegal immigrants crossing the Mexican border daily; a mother-son duo fleeing from the wrath of the drug cartel. It could not have been more done-to-death.
And yet, there are instances in the story that surprise you. From the title and gist, you’d think the bullet and body count are endless. But no, Neeson’s Vietnam vet Jim Hanson isn’t a proponent of violence. He takes out his firearms only when absolutely necessary. He philosophises with Miguel (Joe Perez) when the latter proclaims he will murder the men responsible for his mother’s fatal shooting. “No good feeling comes from taking another person’s life,” Jim says.
Director: Robert Lorenz
Cast: Liam Neeson, Juan Pablo Raba, Joe Perez, Katheryn Winnick, Teresa Ruiz
The film is more of a chase thriller as a majority of the plot involves a beaten down pick-up truck being tailed by the Mexican drug mafia. Jim and Miguel cannot come from more different circumstances. The former, a tired, old veteran, who may lose his ranch on the Arizona-Mexico border, lives out his days with his beloved dog. On occasion, he reports illegal crossings to the authorities. Miguel and his mother are forced to flee Mexico when his uncle finds himself on the wrong side of the drug cartel. The only thing tying Jim to Miguel is the murder of the boy’s mother in his presence; her last wish is for Miguel to be handed over to relatives in Chicago.
This granting of a dying mother’s final wish keeps gnawing away at Jim through the story. His prickling conscience and intense demeanour have him breaking the law in order to fulfil that promise. One look at Neesom’s face and you know that his character is man who doesn’t break promises. The exchanges between Neesom and Perez move from initial awkwardness and distrust to more genial territory as the plot progresses. Jim does all the talking at the start, peppering his English sentences with the only Spanish word he knows: comprende. Miguel remains as reticent as ever, until finally, he retorts in perfectly good English. This sequence is indeed funny, as Jim’s response bears testament: “Well, well, well. He speaks!”
These two characters are generations and worlds apart, but find ways to make the best of a difficult situation. And whether they are bonding over Jim’s dog or learning from each other’s individual histories, such aforementioned scenes form the best The Marksman has to offer. Their acting holds up a rather cliché-ridden narrative. Neesom is his brooding and intense best, while Perez is as natural as can be. This brooding intensity we have come to expect from just about every Liam Neeson performance (even in the more dreadful films) is unwavering over here. He may be outrunning and outsmarting the drug mafia or providing perspective to a young boy on the ill-effects of violence or occasionally whipping out his sniper rifle when his back is to the wall, but one thing he does not do is slip out of character.
The anti-violence stance of the film is indeed an intriguing one, and comes to the fore in one of the last scenes involving Jim, Miguel, and the leader of the drug cartel. Jim is forced to use violence to protect the boy and himself, but he will see to it that Miguel does not go down the same road.
On the whole, the plot treads the beaten track. Some of the characters are decently sketched out and the acting is fairly good, but the story’s broad strokes render it both predictable and average. However, it is the pairing of two very different characters and their many conversations on the run, that pique our curiosity. The cross-country chase outranks shorter sequences of shootings and hand-to-hand combat. And though Liam Neeson is great in whichever way one chooses to see it, he is in desperate need of better scripts to show off the full range of his acting ability.