THE MARKSMAN

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Robert Lorenz

Stars: Liam Neeson, Jacob Perez, Juan Pablo Raba, Katheryn Winnick, Teresa Ruiz.

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A former marine with a special set of skills takes on the Mexican cartel, but rather than the over-the-top violence and high body count of the recent Rambo: Last Blood, The Marksman is a lean action movie that seems more grounded in reality, and it has the look and feel of a latter day Clint Eastwood film, more Gran Torino than Dirty Harry. Not surprisingly, since the film has been written and directed by Robert Lorenz who has worked with Eastwood on numerous films as a producer over two decades and even directed him in the lowkey 2012 baseball drama Trouble With The Curve.

Liam Neeson steps back into aging action hero mode here, a role that has become a familiar part of his screen persona since 2008’s Taken. Although Neeson enjoys beating up villains on screen he has said that he is going to retire from making these kinds of genre films because of his age and because he is growing tired of them, the reality is that these kind of macho action films put bums on seats and pay the bills.

In this contemporary western Neeson plays Jim Hanson a former Vietnam veteran and sniper who now runs a large ranch on the border between Arizona and Mexico. He is still grieving the recent death of his wife, and he is facing the loss of his farm due to mounting medical bills that he has been unable to pay. One day while patrolling his extensive property with his loyal dog Jackson he comes across a woman and young boy sneaking through a hole in the border fence. He stops them, but while he is contacting the border security forces a black SUV pulls up on the Mexican side of the fence and four armed men get out. They demand Hanson hand the over, but when he refuses a shootout happens. The woman is badly wounded, and before she dies she pleads with Jim to take her eleven-year old son Miguel (newcomer Jacob Perez) to Chicago where he has family. Jim reluctantly agrees, which sets in motion a pursuit across America.

Miguel is carrying a bag of money stolen from the cartel and they want it back, at any cost. Jim and Miguel are chased by the relentless and brutal cartel hitman Mauricio (Juan Pablo Raba, from Peppermint, etc).

Hanson receives some assistance from his estranged stepdaughter Sarah (Katheryn Winnick, from tv series Vikings, etc), who works for border patrol, but there are also some corrupt members within the border security forces as well.

Neeson is in fine form as the grizzled, flawed hero, and he brings an air of vulnerability and fragility to his performance. There’s a nice ironic use of his famous line from Taken that is said down the phone to him here. In his first feature film role Perez has a natural presence. There is a nice chemistry between Neeson and Perez that adds some depth to their relationship.  Raba is a one-dimensional villain here, a vicious killer with no redeeming qualities.

The Marksman has been filmed largely on location in New Mexico and Ohio, and there is some nice widescreen lensing from cinematographer Mark Patten (who worked on films like The Martian, etc) that gives us a sense of space and the open landscapes of America. Lorenz’s direction of the action sequences is lean, unfussy and straightforward, much in the style of his mentor Eastwood. 

There is an air of predictability about the direction that The Marksman takes, but it is still an engaging if somewhat cliched watch as it moves towards a suitably bittersweet finale.

★★★

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