Ever since Taken became a surprise hit in January 2008, Liam Neeson has been slowly pigeonholed into the role of revenge-seeking man with a particular set of skills. Since several of the films he made over the next few years, including Unknown, The Grey, and Non-Stop, were also released in January or February and did well at the box office, it makes sense. It almost became an event to see Neeson’s new action-thriller to start the year off right! They’ve tried to replicate this success over the past couple of years but after the dismal attempt to recapture that same magic with Cold Pursuit in 2019, it’s getting harder to get excited for yet another Taken-retread in the early months of the year. That doesn’t bode well for The Marksman, Neeson’s new thriller about a rancher who fights off the cartel to give a young boy a new life.
Neeson plays Jim, a recent widower who finds out his border ranch is going up for auction unless he can come up with six months of payments in ninety days. Things go from bad to worse when he runs into Miguel (Jacob Perez), a young boy illegally crossing the border with his mother (Teresa Ruiz), while patrolling the edge of his property. A firefight with a Mexican cartel, lead by Mauricio (Juan Pablo Raba), then ensues when Jim refuses to send Miguel back. During the skirmish, Mauricio’s brother is killed and Miguel’s mother is shot. Before she succumbs to the wound, Jim promises to drive Miguel to his family in Chicago. Let the road trip begin!
With the cartel tracking every move Jim makes from Arizona to Chicago, you’d expect this mismatched road trip to be full of heart-racing excitement, and yet, what we get is much more mundane. Nothing against Perez, but his performance is a bit bland and he doesn’t connect as well with Neeson as this type of film needs to sustain its emotional center. Neeson is of course his usual “particluar set of skills” self, complete with gravelly voice, tired, worn, attitude and an eye for the kill when needed most. But that’s all it seems to be, as the “marksman” character trait seems to be all but missing from the film. Other than a nice setup at the beginning when Jim kills a coyote for attacking his livestock, there’s only one other instance of him actually being a marksman, and even that is wasted.
What little action there is in the film never seems natural. The majority of decisions made by nearly every character seem more in line with the screenwriter’s need to put them in particular situations than it is a natural progression of plot or character. For instance, in one scene, a corrupt cop on Mauricio’s payroll pulls Jim over and puts him in the back of the squad car. The obvious setup would require Jim to somehow break out of the squad car to get away once he realizes the truth. Instead, the officer removes Jim from the squad car and asks him to get back in the truck. What? Why? There are several additional scenarios that follow this same illogical progression.
Many of the relationships the film tries to setup also aren’t fleshed out as much as they could be. The bond that Jim and Miguel form over the course of their trip is done well enough, but the relationship Jim has with one of the border agents (Katheryn Winnick) lacks enough depth for the direction the filmmakers are attempting to achieve. We’re also to believe that Jim’s respect for other military personal would trump his own anger and fortitude, but the idea fueling this connection doesn’t have enough weight to influence the decisions made in the climax of the film. The writers do what they can to set it up, but fall short in making it at all affecting.
Putting Men In Black: International aside, The Marksman is Neeson’s third major film in a row that tries desperately to borrow as much from Taken as humanly possible without plagiarizing that far superior film. The Marksman does a slightly better job than Cold Pursuit in finding a level of balance that doesn’t just feel like a copy of a copy, but can’t seem to pull the trigger on the right emotions to deliver a clear sense of urgency, escape and bare-bones adrenaline that these earlier films were able to inspire.
My Grade: B-
Anthony Mackie stars as a lone-wolf soldier in Outside the Wire, a Netflix original sci-fi military actioner that has a lot of incredible special effects and some interesting ideas, but falls short on almost everything else, from a somewhat convoluted plot to poor casting choices and confusing character developments. Listen to my full (SPOILER) review of Outside the Wire on Ramblin’ Reviews. B
Next week, new movies include Brothers By Blood and The White Tiger (Netflix). If you would like to see a review for this, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.