Liam Neeson loads up his rifle for another trip into action hero territory playing a rancher and former marine who helps a young boy escape from the cartel in “The Marksman,” a predictable thriller that falls below Neeson’s previous efforts.
With his sophomore directorial effort, Robert Lorenz, who previously directed “The Trouble with the Curve” and is a frequent collaborator of Clint Eastwood, tries to give substance and style to this muddled endeavor but the premise is too half-baked and the characters too stereotypical to ever gain much dramatic traction. Working from a clichéd script that he co-wrote with Chris Charles and Danny Kravitz that consists of recycled plot points and manufactured suspense, Lorenz mixes together too many genre elements that never unite in any kind of satisfying manner. Consequently, despite some handsome camerawork, passable action sequences and a couple winning moments between Neeson and newcomer child actor Jacob Perez, “The Marksman” comes across as more of an idea for an action thriller than the real article, with the premise’s flimsiness revealing itself at nearly every turn.
“The Marksman” centers on Jim Hanson, an Arizona rancher and former marine whose property abuts an area of the Mexican border where illegal immigrants frequently try to cross into the country. A widower fallen on hard times, Jim’s situation goes from bad to worse when a representative from the bank informs him that, due to lack of payments, his ranch will be auctioned off within ninety days unless he comes up with the money. Meanwhile, across the border, a woman named Rosa (Teresa Ruiz) and her son Miguel (Jacob Perez) are being pursued by Mauricio (Juan Pablo Raba), a ruthless drug cartel enforcer, for being in possession of stolen cartel money. Jim discovers the mother and son crossing through his property at the same time as the cartel, and a gunfight ensues that results in tragedy.
Having made a promise to Miguel’s mother that he will deliver the child to family members in Chicago, and fearful that the cartel will get their hands on the boy if he is deported, Jim decides to sneak the child out of border patrol custody and drive him cross-country to his desired destination. But with the cartel hot on their heels, and Mauricio thirsting for revenge, their chances of survival are slim. As the unlikely duo make their way cross-country, they forge a bond that gives Jim purpose in his life.
Generally speaking, when an action flick is lacking in the story department, audiences can always rely on the simple cinematic pleasures of thrilling gunfights and other forms of explosive action. Unfortunately, the story scenarios and action sequences of “The Marksman” are so predictable and familiar in nature that the accompanying thrills never really register. Working with cinematographer Mark Patten, director Robert Lorenz manages to capture the beauty of the American landscape as any decent road movie would, but those fleeting moments of eye-pleasing landscapes are always undermined by the sloppy storyline and lack of character depth.
Needless to say, although “The Marksman” fits comfortably into the Liam Neeson action vehicle formula, the character of Jim Hanson is too sketchily constructed and his motivations are too circumstantial to really hit the dramatic notes to which the story aspires. Jim’s character arc from hardhearted loner to selfless defender seems like a stretch, and even though Neeson is eminently likable even when he’s doling out ass kickings to bad guys, the entire premise strains credulity. The supporting actors of “The Marksman” largely fall into the serviceable category, with Juan Pablo Raja bringing appropriate menace to cartel enforcer Mauricio, Katheryn Winnick projecting concern as Jim’s caring daughter who runs the local border patrol office, and child actor Jacob Perez holding his own opposite Neeson in one of his very first acting roles.
Liam Neeson’s star power as an action hero still shines bright but “The Marksman” is a definite misfire.
By Lucas Mirabella
Running Time: 107 minutes
Rated PG-13 for violence, some bloody images and brief strong language.
In theaters on January 15th