The Marksman (2021) Review
A BORING, FORMULAIC,
AND FORGETFUL ENDEAVOR
Actor Liam Neeson has definitely made a name for himself in Hollywood. The Northern Ireland actor has turned a fine career of being leading man, but (like many actors in Tinseltown) humbly began in either smaller feature films or in supporting roles with some recognizable rising acting talents, including actors Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins in The Bounty, Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons in The Mission, and Patrick Swayze in Next of Kin. In 1993, Neeson landed a lead role in Stephen Spielberg’s 1993 acclaim film Schindler’s list, which rose the actor in Hollywood and opened the doors to many diverse roles. While Neeson did continue to land plenty of roles in big / prominent movies during the 90s, his started to get mainstream roles toward the late 90s and turning of the millennium…most notably in 2008 with the movie Taken. After gaining favorable reviews / praise from the movie and Neeson’s performance of the movie’s lead character of role Bryan Mills, Neeson started to become a staple in the action / revenge thriller fare, with subsequent follow up Taken sequels in 2012 and 2015 as well as other similar action thriller films like Non-Stop, The Commuter, Cold Pursuit, and Honest Thief. Now, Open Road Films and director Robert Lorenz present the latest Liam Neeson film offering with the release of The Marksman. Does the movie shine in Neeson’s collective body of work of cinematic tales or is it just another “run-of-the-mill” revenge action endeavor?
Jim Hanson (Liam Neeson) is an owner of an Arizona Ranch that resides near the Mexico border. After recently becoming a widower, Jim’s life has been in a downward spiral, with losing his savings to medical bills, and leaving him in a tight financial bind, while he keeps tabs on illegal immigrants who traverse their way through his property in local communication with the nearby Border Patrol, including his wife’s daughter Sarah Pennington (Katheryn Winnick). During a routine afternoon drive, Jim and his dog come across an illegal Mexican woman named Rosa (Teresa Ruiz) and her son, Miguel, (Jacob Perez). Holding a bag of cash taken from a violent cartel, Rosa is desperate to make her way into America for safety, soon confronted and shot by cartel enforcer Mauricio (Juan Pablo Raba), which triggers Jim to react to the situation and collects Miguel after his mother suddenly dies. Left with the money and an address of relatives in Chicago, Jim decides to bring Miguel to safety, avoiding government interference and local law enforcements. Along the way, the two strangers get to know each other, but those moments are fleeting as Mauricio collects his men and crosses into America, using the cartel’s hidden network to find Jim and take possession of the missing money and the Miguel along with it.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Forgive me if I just simply “cut and paste” and borrow the opening paragraph and this one from my review of 2019’s Cold Pursuit, for both paragraphs definitely speak to what I want to say about Neeson and his movies. So… without further ado…. oh, Liam Neeson….and his many revenge thriller movies. Don’t get me wrong I love him as an actor. I mean…seriously…. he’s done plenty of good / iconic roles in his career. What’s that meme again…. he’s played a god twice (Clash of the Titans and The Chronicles of Narnia films), been a Jedi Master (Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace), trained Batman (Batman Begins), and punched a wolf (The Grey) …why would anyone kidnap his daughter (Taken). Yes, Neeson have created a name for himself. Of course, I do love him in Schindler’s List, but his real “popular” franchise of his character Bryan Mills in Taken really did launch him into a subgenre unto itself. Yes, I’m talking about the famous phrase “Another year, another Liam Neeson revenge thriller” …. if you know what I mean. Still, looking beyond his stint the revenge thriller / action realm, I do love several other Neeson roles such as his roles in Kingdom of Heaven, The LEGO Movie, A Monsters Calls….and (of course) The Chronicles of Narnia movies. What can I say… he’s the perfect fit for the voice of Aslan.
Naturally, this brings me back to talking about Neeson’s latest film project titled The Marksman. To be quite honest, I really didn’t hear much about this movie as it’s kind of “snuck up” on me at the beginning of 2021. I do remember hearing about Neeson’s 2020 project Honest Thief, but I didn’t get the chance to see / review that particular movie. So, while I usually wait to see a trailer preview of a Liam Neeson movie (he usually comes out with a movie every year), I did stumble across the film The Marksman, but only when I was looking on Fandango’s app on my phone and checking to see what movies were playing at the theater near me, which is still currently open. So, while I had one of my days off in January, I decided to blindly purchase a ticket to see the movie. I didn’t even check out the film’s trailer until after I saw the movie as I kind of figured what the film was gonna be about, especially since it was starring Neeson in the lead role and probably had some type of action / revenge angle. So, I went to my local theater and saw The Marksman. And what did I think of it? Well, it was pretty “meh” to me. Despite having Neeson anchoring the feature with his screen presence, The Marksman is just a boring and derivate endeavor that never rise to occasion and never really delivers on some of being memorable. Cliched riddled, this movie definitely misses its mark.
The Marksman is directed by Robert Lorenz, whose previous directorial works include such movies like Trouble with the Curve as well as being a assistant / second unit director for various Clint Eastwood directorial films such as American Sniper, Million Dollar Baby, and Mystic River. Given his attraction to working with one of the greatest film directors in the business, Lorenz shapes his sophomore feature film in the ways and style of a Clint Eastwood film; demonstrating his chops for some gritty action with a gristle man. This is probably why The Marksman kind of feels like a Eastwood movie; generating a lot of grit and conflict within its main plot of the story as well as feeling similar tones and nuances. Plus, there is also a neo-western vibe in the movie, which definitely speaks to the genre of which is trying to convey. This is most apparent in the film’s main character of Jim Hanson, a weary man who lost his wife and is now faces a difficult change along the way. Additionally, Lorenz seems to touch upon the political commentary of the US / Mexico border complications, but only merely, which can be a little bit of both good and bad (depends on how you look at it). Plus, Lorenz does do a good job in making the relationship between Jim and Miguel to be at the forefront of the feature, which can be quite endearing to watch. All in all, while not a complete train wreck (see the film’s problems below), Lorenz makes The Marksman enough to make viewers feel something while watching this story start and finish on the silver screen.
In terms of the film’s presentation, The Marksman feels adequate for the type of avenue it wants to achieve. As I mentioned above, Lorenz seems to be going for a “Eastwood” style and much of the film’s background aesthetics seems to garnish that type of iconic look and feel from the legendary film director’s past projects. Thus, the movie has a little bit of that neo-western feeling to it (as I stated above), with the setting and locales having that vastness and emptiness in various shots of the story’s setting in Arizona and backwater roads / towns along the way. Thus, the production designs by Charissse Cardenas and art direction by Gregory G. Sandoval as well as cinematography work by Mark Patten give the film a little bit of an edge over some the film’s criticisms. Everything else…. meets the industry standard and I have no praise for it nor disappointment factor. Even the film’s score, which was composed by Sean Callery, gets the job in done in creating some melodrama mood music as well as some intense filled cues, but is, more or less, just an average scoring composition.
Unfortunately, The Marksman stumbles more than finding its own stride; finding the feature to be rather bland and redundant in his undertaking and overall execution. How so? Well, the biggest culprit that draws the most criticisms is in its narrative telling, which (as I mentioned above) has been done many times before. However, most of those endeavors have found better offerings in its presentation and displays a certain type of uniqueness to its story. The Marksman, however, does not; presenting a film that is formulaic to the touch and does little to invigorate viewers in its narrative plot. Yes, some parts are quite compelling that certainly might tug on a few heartstrings of sentimentality, but nothing feels quite particularly new or groundbreaking. In fact, there really no standout moments and / or memorable scenes that I can speak of in the movie. More to the point, the movie keeps up the appearance of stereotypical dealings of US Border / Cartels organization members that are commonplace in western film portrayals. You know what I mean…. the cliched Latino cartel depictions and the shady dealings of who they (the cartel) control of US law enforcements (i.e in their pocket) has been done and redone many times over and The Marksman does little to change the status quo of such depictions Perhaps that is the best way to describe this film….status quo. Nothing is remarkable about it and nothing seems to particular stand out!
This criticism derives from both Lorenz’s direction for the film and the movie’ script, which was handled by Lorenz as well as Chris Charles and Danny Kravitz. From the director’s standpoint, Lorenz just can’t create something new or vaguely original in shaping a feature film like this project; making The Marksman rather forgetful by blending into the similar other projects (again…nothing really stands out). Additionally, Lorenz makes the movie have several pacing issues in the movie, especially in the initial setup portion of the film in the first act. Yes, he takes the time to “set the stage” up for the main plot, but it takes a long time to actually get to meaty substance of the feature; making the first act of the film rather boring. This pacing issues isn’t just confined to the first act alone as the second act suffers from this as well; making the journey between Jim and Miguel rather sluggish and a few standards sidesteps along the way. The same can be said in the action department, with Lorenz setting up a few scenes here and there, but there are sparse and quite tamed for an endeavor like this. Again…and I hate to keep on saying this, but everything is just kept the status quo, with Lorenz creating a bland feature with his directing. Maybe the movie could’ve been better handled in another director’s hand.
In the writing department, The Marksman is once again generating a vanilla narrative that drums up a lot of cliché and stereotypical segments that sort of blend together and feel half-baked. That’s pretty much the entire film. What’s presented is suppose to work, but the script is limited and hampers the feature even worse; creating vague sequences of understanding and playing up a narrative, while proven, that does little to add more gristle / substance. Additionally, the script is rather formulaic to the touch with very little added material to “spice up” The Marksman’s story; rendering most of what’s going on in the movie rather “meh” with a lot of “been there, done that” type of feeling in redundancy. Even the film’s ending, which is suppose to be impactful, seems a bit emptyhanded.
The cast of The Marksman is a mixed bag and is part of the problem of the feature as well. For the most part, the acting of those talents involved are not necessarily bad or anything like that (most are good), but a great majority of the characters on how they are written fall flat and are, more or less, cliché archetypes tropes. Naturally, actor Liam Neeson leads the charge in the movie as the film’s main protagonist character of Jim Hanson. Of course, Neeson, known for the movies that I mentioned in my opening paragraph, is a solid actor and certainly is comfortable doing this particular character role. Moreover, Neeson certainly carries the film on his screen / acting presence; perfecting the grizzled and weary man persona in a somewhat niche way and making his portrayal of Jim Hanson in a likeable way of some kind. The problem, however, is the actually character himself or rather how Jim Hanson is written in the film’s script. What do I mean? Well, how Hanson is written is rather clunky and derivate and not really that groundbreaking, with the script cobbling up various iterations of a similar-like characters in other projects as well as past characters from Neeson’s line of work. The end result is something a bit bland and unmemorable, despite Neeson elevating the character somewhat. It’s just not enough to make the character of Jim Hanson quite compelling beyond his initial setup.
The same can be also be said with the character of Miguel, the young immigrant boy who travels with Jim on their journey throughout the film. Played by young actor Jacob Perez (Willy Goes Way Back and Papa Bear), the character of Miguel is pretty much a commonplace trope for similar narratives and The Marksman plays much of the yarn to a fault. This, of course, makes the character a bit cliched and predictable. However, I do have to say that Perez does do a good job in the role. Collectively, both Neeson and Perez share good chemistry with each other and one can easily see the attempt to make their budding relationship grow throughout the film. However, the relationship between Jim and Miguel is a bit rough around the edges and doesn’t come close to something like Hugh Jackman’s Logan and Dafne Keen’s Laura in Logan.
In more of supporting players in the film, actor Juan Pablo Raba (Peppermint and The 33) and actress Katheryn Winnick (Vikings and The Dark Tower) fill those roles respectfully as Mauricio, an enforcer for the Mexican cartel and who pursues Jim and Miguel throughout the movie, and Sarah, Jim’s stepdaughter. Unfortunately, while the intent for both characters is there, these two are rather cookie-cutter constructs in the film and don’t really amount to much. Raba is okay as Mauricio, but he doesn’t have much to go with the character; leaving him to look sinister and scowl every time he’s on-screen. The same can almost be said with Winnick’s Sarah. The movie starts something with her when she’s first introduced, but she ultimately ends up just the “woman on the phone” caricature and nothing more, which is a disappointment for the actress (loved her as Lagetha in Vikings). The rest of the cast, including actress Teresa Ruiz (Narcos: Mexico and Here on Earth) as Miguel’s mother Rosa, actor Alfredo Quiroz (Sicario: Day of the Soldado) as Carlos, actor Luce Rains (Hostiles and 3:10 to Yuma) as Everett Crawford, and actor Dylan Kenin (Roots and Only the Brave) as Randall Brennan, make up the minor supporting players in the movie. While none of them give bad acting performances, their characters don’t amount to much and sort of feel like “stock-like” caricatures.
Arizona rancher and former Marine, Jim Hanson must help a young immigrant boy (Miguel) to find his family in the US, while evading the pursuit of the Mexican cartel in the movie The Marksman. Director Robert Lorenz’s latest film takes another examination into Neeson’s latest offering of action / revenge thriller avenue; harkening to the age-old yarn of a tired and worn man, who doesn’t have much, who accidentally stumbles into something that gives him to fight for. Unfortunately, despite Neeson given his best as the feature’s tentpole and the story trying to convey a sublime / touching relationship between the film’s two main characters, the movie struggles to find a proper and memorable balance with its viewers, especially in Lorenz’s flat direction, uneven pacing, boring segments, cliché elements, a generic plot, formulaic characters, and sparse action scenes. Personally, I didn’t particularly care for this movie. Yes, it had all the right elements to it and Neeson was once again solid in the role, but the project never really did anything outside the commonplace narrative path or formulaic tropes that are customary to similar feature films. Plus, as I mentioned, the movie is quite boring. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is just a simple “skip it” as it’s a pretty forgetful movie (even in Neeson’s catalogue of projects), so it’s just better to watch or rewatch one of the actor’s more favorable past endeavors to indulge in the action /revenge angle. Better yet…. just watch Logan and you’ll get a better understanding of the story that this particular film wants to achieve. In the end, while actor Liam Neeson will mostly continue to punch out a few more projects before he retires from acting, The Marksman is, more or less, a missed opportunity; missing its mark and just presenting a bland and boring tale that never really gets off the ground from formulaic mediocrity.
2.4 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: January 15th, 2021
Reviewed On: February 5th, 2021
The Marksman is 108 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for violence, some bloody images, and brief strong language