The Marksman Review: Liam Neeson goes complete Clint Eastwood

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Liam Neeson and an orphaned Mexican boy overtake the cartel assassins in a film that attempts to make the connection between John Wick and “The Mule”.

The shadow of Clint Eastwood hangs over “The Marksman,” although you might not know that this fast-paced, greasy thriller by Liam Neeson is directed by “Mystic River” and “Million Dollar Baby” producer Robert Lorenz (“Trouble with the Curve “), or that he shares many of the same craftsmen who worked on those films. The story of a grizzled old widower who reluctantly finds himself driving an orphaned Mexican boy from Arizona to Illinois with a bag full of drug money on the floor of his truck and a sociopathic assassin from the cartel in his rearview mirror, “The Marksman” might be two-way from “The Mule,” but almost everything about it – from his “get out of my lawn” misanthropy to his general view of the uselessness of government in American life – feels suited for a late-career Eastwood vehicle.

As Eastwood himself appears for a minute in the second act, the star smiles at us from inside a motel television that shows a fuzzy show from the 1968 western “Hang ‘Em High”, The Nod. seems almost as inevitable and indebted as one of those Stan Lee cameos in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But while superhero movies unsurprisingly managed to outlive Stan Lee, a movie as functional and tasteless as “The Marksman” suggests Eastwoodism will die along with the man who inspired it.

If Lorenz’s tribute has to seem so anonymous, maybe it’s because crisp, cash-strapped Arizona breeder Jim Hanson – as tough as he can try to be an ersatz Clint Eastwood – is also forced to be Liam Neeson, John Wick and the creator of Muppets’ at the same time. Now such an established action star that the post- ‘Taken’ part of her career has its own nested subsections within (her 2019 self-cancellation marking the end of one and the start of one). ‘another), Neeson has developed a clean-screen character sound of his own, and that doesn’t necessarily match the “Old Man with No Name” energy of his last character.

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On the one hand, it reads as sadder than the Eastwood archetype; not just melancholy or lonely, but hollow. Jim is an apolitical character who is too depressed to care about those around him, no matter where they are from or what color their skin is; when he and his dog Jackson meet an 11-year-old migrant named Miguel (Jacob Perez) and his mother Rosa (Teresa Ruiz) as they go through a hole in the border fence, Jim’s reaction is to give them water and call border patrol – it’s the simple reflex of a former Marine who doesn’t have the emotional bandwidth to record the horror on those faces.

There is no MAGA-related villainy in the decision, and the film doesn’t pay much attention to “Green Booking” with the story of a white man who sees people of color as only humans. time that he is forced to spend time with one of them. (although that is essentially what is happening). “The Marksman” does not unpack its protagonist enough to know his prejudices or to trace his growth; it is just empty when it starts, and fills up a bit as it goes.

Jim only begins to react when tough-looking dudes find themselves on the Mexican side of the divide, start shooting through the fence, and fatally injure the boy’s mother. Even after Rosa used her last breath to ask Jim to deliver her son to a family in Chicago – and the shooter (!) Authorities. That Jim ultimately reconsiders, gets the kid out, and leads him on a dangerous road trip through the Midwest feels both easily explainable and strangely demotivated in equal measure.

Is it because Jim knows that some of the border guards are paid by the cartels, and that Miguel’s survival depends on his ability to find a safe home in the United States? Is it because the bank is going to auction his ranch in 90 days, he’ll never be able to pay his late wife’s medical bills on time, and his Border Patrol director-in-law (Katheryn Winnick) is too subscribed to pierce the bubble of loneliness that has accumulated around him? Is he just bored? The correct answer is only ever a messy mishmash of these reasons, as “The Marksman” targets a moving target that also has to adapt to certain geriatric action sequences – there are lots of hiding places and several. beats where Jim and Miguel escape from a location just seconds before the villains arrive – and a Terminator-style villain played by “Narcos” actor Juan Pablo Raba. His Mauricio is a walking stereotype who doesn’t realize who he’s dealing with, and his bluster of Anton Chigurh (with the murder of an innocent gas station attendant) only goes so far as to justify the screen time he chews in. course. And when Mauricio takes aim at the dog, well… let’s just say I think Jim Hanson is back.

Between flying bullets and screeching tires, Lorenz struggles to make an unlikely connection between Jim and Miguel, but there isn’t much meat on that particular bone. Perez is an alluring presence, and it’s always fun to watch a brutal old idiot befriend an unhappy kid, but the surrogate dad doesn’t have time to settle down. Miguel first blames Jim for his mother’s death, then – a steak and a shootout later – just doesn’t do it anymore. As easy as it is to appreciate how the kid might have found out the truth about his situation, “The Marksman” removes so many nuances that could have elevated this story above the basic genre.

The character is implied, but rarely studied. Jim steals enough sips of alcohol to raise an eyebrow, and Miguel moans that he “didn’t even want to be in your stupid country,” but none of their injuries and frustrations are explored beyond the action. ‘required. While a pervasive sentiment of “the government needs to get its act together and understand this mess” is encapsulated in the narrative (especially when Jim barks that “the government needs to come together and understand this mess!”), “The Marksman” is too enamored. of its low-rent January aesthetic to make detours to the depths.

Much like his mentor, Lorenz shoots straight from the hip. The action is clean, the beats are wide, the color palette is muted. There is so little fuss in this movie that any lost moment – like a fast-paced scene in which Mauricio watches a blonde American woman like he’s never been north of the border before – doesn’t attract attention. than on its narrow focus and Redbox ambitions. . Neeson is a good replacement for the haggard soul of a country where people feel the need to take justice into their own hands, but his latest cinematic vendetta is so eager to get where it’s going that it loses all real meaning. of itself. the path. As “The Marksman” fades into its very Eastwoodian finale, Clint’s touch doesn’t look so much like a subtle inspiration as a sort of serious absence.

Grade: C-

Open Road will release “The Marksman” in theaters on Friday, January 15th.

As new films open in theaters during the COVID-19 pandemic, IndieWire will continue to review them whenever possible. We encourage readers to follow the safety precautions provided by the CDC and health authorities. In addition, our coverage will offer alternative viewing options whenever they become available.

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