Liam Neeson protects a young boy in “The Marksman”
Liam Neeson – again – uses his “particular skill set” to kick ass in “The Marksman,” another late-career action flick (“Non-Stop,” “The Commuter,” “Cold Pursuit Which has become the bread and butter of the actor since “Take”. Even at 68, Neeson can still take – and deliver – a whooping cough.
In “The Marksman”, co-written and directed by Robert Lorenz (“Trouble with the Curve”), he is Jim Hanson, an Arizona cattle rancher, former Marines sniper and recent widower whose house is 90 days from foreclosure. During a routine patrol on his land adjacent to the Mexican border, Jim encounters a mother and son (Teresa Ruiz and Jacob Perez) fleeing from cartel thugs. Jim grabs his gun and walks over to help him. “I don’t scare easily,” he sneers. “Turn around and adios.” Gunshots ensue with mom taking a bullet in the stomach. Before taking her last breath, she places a piece of blood-stained paper in Jim’s hand. An address is written on it and one last wish is that her son, Miguel, reunite with his family in Chicago. Reluctantly, Jim does what any Liam Neeson character would do. He fuels his bullet-riddled Chevy pickup, grabs his dog Jackson, and heads to northeast Illinois. Of course, he has company. At its heels, a black SUV occupied by villains of the cartel, including Juan Pablo Raba, who wants revenge and earn money. Jim’s daughter-in-law, Sarah (Katheryn Winnick), a border patroller, is also in pursuit, begging for Miguel’s safe return.
The story takes place over five days. The plot is a standard issue, mixing elements of actors, westerns, and chase movies. The screenplay, written by a trio of writers (Lorenz with help from Chris Charles and Danny Kravitz), is as generic, predictable, and stereotypical as it gets, though it aims to be something on the level of Clint Eastwood meets John. Wick. Lorenz, a frequent Eastwood collaborator, even winks at his friend, at one point playing a music video for “Hang ‘Em High” in the background.
Neeson always had a soft spot for the good guys when working with opposing children (“Love, in fact” immediately comes to mind), and that’s one of the strengths of the film. As in last month’s “News of the World”, Jim and Miguel bond with every mile that goes by, forging a deeper relationship than just getting past the drug thugs. This is what makes the showdown decisive. Neeson uses these famous “skills” to take down the bad guys and drop some one-liners. It’s not great, but “The Marksman” doesn’t aim high and Lorenz cleverly relies on Neeson’s charm and Everyman’s heroism to counter. He can make a hardened vigilante with a heart of gold in his sleep, but that’s precisely what makes the film so eminently watchable. Neeson is as durable as ever, even though “The Marksman” is pulling blank.
Dana Barbuto can be reached at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.
(PG-13 for violence, some bloody images and brief strong language.) Cast: Liam Neeson, Katheryn Winnick, Jacob Perez, Juan Pablo Raba. In the rooms, where open, on Fridays. Category B-