PLOT: A rancher finds himself protecting a young boy on the run from a deadly Mexican cartel.
REVIEW: Very few actors have mastered the tough guy with a grudge quite like Liam Neeson. His work in films like Taken proved that he had the incredible gift of giving this type of role a little more than just your average action hero simplicity. While not every film has lived up to to his classic 2008 revenge flick – very few have – his latest attempts to inject a bit of humanity into this aging kick-ass icon’s adventure. The Marksman hits a few of the right notes. It has a couple of decent performances and even a small handful of exciting moments. Yet even still, the Robert Lorenz directed feature rarely rises to the heights that it could have thanks to a predictable script, uninspired bad guys, and nothing truly original to offer.
Neeson portrays a rancher named Jim. He is a simple man living a simple life after the death of his wife. When he nearly runs over a young boy named Miguel (Jacob Perez) and his mother (Lelia Symington) after they’ve crossed the Mexico-Arizona border, he finds himself in a shoot-out with a group of men in pursuit of the young woman and her son. Things go from bad to worse when the men open fire on them, and Jim narrowly escapes with the boy. The men with guns happen to be part of a drug cartel, and the boy seemingly has something that they want. It all leads to a cross-country adventure as Jim decides to help bring Miguel back to the only family he has left in America. Will they escape the gun-toting criminals that remain narrowly on their tale? Well, I guess you can watch it and find out if you so desire.
It may not surprise anyone that Liam Neeson is still perfectly suited to a character like this. Jim is a widower, and he’s also a Vietnam vet. He’s also got a good heart that pushes him to do right by the young boy he’s protecting. Neeson is an ace at doing this kind of thing. Grizzled and gruff, the actor is certainly well cast. As well, the on-screen relationship he shares with young Jacob Perez is quite good. The best moments of the film are when these two must work together while on the run from the unruly Maurico (Juan Pablo Raba) and his gang of thugs, but there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before. Even more frustrating is that the film could have been so much more compelling had it followed a less predictable and dull path. Even the talented Katheryn Winnick (TV’s Vikings) shows up, only to be wasted with very little to do.
One of the main problems here is the bland baddies in the mix. That is not to say that Juan Pablo Raba is terrible as the main antagonist. The actor has a bit of menace, but he has very little to work with when it comes to the script. You’ve seen this guy before, as well as the thugs he brings with him. His goon squad does the things that villains do. They even terrorize a young gas station employee for no good reason; and don’t even get me started on the dog. There’s nothing about Maurico and his gang that stands out from any other feature like this. Aside from the fact that they are part of a drug cartel, we know very little about them – well aside from the fact that they are murderous jerks.
Even with a couple of engaging moments, it feels much too familiar. You know the beats, you know the story, and you’ll likely have a damn good idea as to how it all plays out well before the lackluster finale. It’s a bit frustrating just how mediocre it is. It’s not a terrible film. It has moments that at least bring you back in. Unfortunately, it never rises beyond a movie that at best, you may just not turn it off if you happen to catch it on Netflix. Let’s be honest, that very statement is not accurate for all smaller budget action movies – some of these flicks you won’t last five minutes on. Ultimately this is for the hardcore Liam Neeson fans that love seeing the quiet tough guy who must fight for something or someone. This story is also a slightly modern take considering it examines immigration in the most insignificant way possible.
Liam gives a fine performance, and the chemistry he shares with his young co-star works rather well. But even that we’ve seen before. Frankly, there’s very little we haven’t seen here before in this ultimately forgettable feature. Much like the character he plays, there is a weariness to the action star protecting a young innocent that rarely rises above mildly enjoyable. If you are looking for a mindless January release, this may suffice on some level. However, if you’re expecting another crowd-pleasing spectacle of a flick you’re going to be very disappointed. Liam Neeson may be getting up there in age, but he can still pull off a punch or two – but this may not be the best example of it. This one is only for Neeson completists or those who have nothing better to do when it ultimately arrives on streaming services.