Title: The Marksman
Describe This Movie Using One Quote From My Father:
DAD: You know what I hated about that show The Rifleman? He never shot anybody.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Troubled vet airs out his grievances, and eventually airs out some cartel dudes.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 2 radiators out of 5.
Tagline: "Nobody asks to be a hero."
Better Tagline: "Nobody asked for another Liam Neeson shooty movie, either."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Since the untimely passing of his wife, Marine Corps veteran Jim Hanson (Liam Neeson) spends the days tending to his ranch on the Arizona border. Bankrupt and facing eviction, the last thing he needs is the arrival of Rosa (Teresa Ruiz) and her son Miguel (Jacob Perez), who are pursued by cartel goons. When Rosa is murdered, Jim takes it upon himself to deliver Miguel to his family in Chicago. Cartel boss Maurico (Juan Pablo Raba) might have something to say about that, however.
"Critical" Analysis: If the 21st century and the fin de siècle of American capitalism have given us anything, it's a surfeit of movies highlighting the plight of the marginalized. Recent years have provided excellent examples like The Florida Project and Nomadland (opening next month), a bleak yet uplifting story about those left behind by America and the quiet dignity with which they persevere.
And then there's The Marksman, which is like that, only with more guns and racism.
Jim Hanson, by all accounts (meaning his), did everything right. He served his country in the Marine Corps (earning a Silver Star), got him some land, and worked hard his whole life, and for what? So some four-eyed dweeb from the bank can serve him eviction papers because his deceased wife's medical bills drove him into bankruptcy?
Admittedly, The Marksman could've been worse. When we first meet Hanson, he's shooting an interloping coyote (of the canine variety) and reporting another (of the human variety) to the Border Patrol. By the time he returns to his ranch, the score swelling beneath a fluttering American flag, you'd think you were in a Clint Eastwood movie.
Which is no coincidence. Director Robert Lorenz has spent his entire career producing Eastwood's movies, and much of the former Dirty Harry's DNA is on display. Lorenz does temper a lot of the casual jingoism by sowing doubt about the institutions we once trusted, throwing further obstacles in the path of this noble man and his youthful ward as they fight the forces of evil.
Lorenz also mostly keeps a rein on the cartel baddies, who are nonetheless committed to their task, pursuing Hanson and Miguel to the outskirts of Chicago. The endeavor is aided by the cartel's infiltration of everyone from the Arizona Border Patrol to Texas state troopers. If Maurico had made it to Chicago, one imagines he'd have fit fight in.
But then, we know how it's all going to end. Try as Maurico might, he's no match for American ... pride? Resolve? Plot contrivances? Even so, there's ultimately precious little marksman-ing on display. After an hour, he's only accounted for one coyote and Maurico's brother. Clint probably would've given us a half dozen more bodies.
At this stage in his career, Neeson has officially entered Sean Connery territory, not even bothering to conceal his accent. It's a bold movie for a dude who's never played James Bond. There's also little to differentiate Jim Hanson from the protagonists of Cold Pursuit, A Walk Among the Tombstones, or any of the other movies he's been paychecking for the better part of the last decade.
It's fascinating, in a morbid way, to look at Liam Neeson's post-2009 filmography and realize how much of his movies must have been a way for dealing with the untimely death of his wife, Natasha Richardson. For example, the Taken films are revenge fantasies, but in this context they might be seen as a cathartic expression of the need to strike back at events out of his control.
But as Hanson, Neeson seems to have moved beyond this need to lash out. He talks about loss and the afterlife and the difficulty of moving on with his stepdaughter (an underutilized* Katheryn Winnick) in scenes that might as well have been the actor's own therapy sessions. Unfortunately, The Marksman is just another example of the actor's diminishing returns.
The Marksman is in select theaters today.
*She founded three Taekwondo schools for crying out loud, let her kick some ass.
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