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The Marksman [Video Review]

Over the Borderline: Neeson Clashes with Customs and Cartels in Latest Thriller

Robert Lorenz The Marksman ReviewBy now a well-grooved subgenre unto itself, the Liam Neeson led cat-and-mouse carousel adds another stop with The Marksman, the sophomore effort from Robert Lorenz, last in the director’s chair for Trouble with the Curve (2012). The script from Chris Charles and Danny Kravitz seems designated more for Clint Eastwood’s background and age range than Neeson, here playing a Vietnam veteran widower languishing in socioeconomic despair on the Arizona/Mexico border.

But never mind the logic, for here is another Neeson vehicle wherein he plays a man with nothing left to lose while valiantly protecting the vulnerable in a narrative ill equipped with determining how exactly he’s supposed to exist beyond the end credits—it’s the kind of B-movie fodder which will likely be fondly remembered by the same aficionados who enjoy Charles Bronson’s 1980s output.

In anguish over his recently deceased wife, who he lost to cancer, Jim (Liam Neeson) must contend with selling off the remainder of his farm in Naco, Arizona to pay the debt owed from her medical bills. He’s reluctant to do because it’s where he spread his wife’s ashes, and only his stepdaughter Sarah (Kathryn Winnick), who works for Border Patrol, is available for commiseration. When Jim accidentally stumbles upon Rosa and Miguel (Teresa Ruiz and Jacob Perez) as they’re illegally crossing the border while being pursued by vicious cartel members, he unwittingly asserts himself in the situation when he tries to assist them. A shootout claims both Rosa and the brother of Mauricio (Juan Pablo Raba), who has been charged with retrieving the mother and son since they have been carrying money which belongs to the cartel. Feeling guilty for alerting Border Patrol and partially responsible for Rosa’s death, Jim takes it upon himself to honor her dying wish and transport her son to relatives in Chicago. Before Miguel can be deported, Jim abducts him from Customs and takes off to Illinois while Mauricio and co. are hot on their trail.

Thankfully, the script dispels with Jim’s growling of Spanish phrases like “adios” and “compadre” before it inspires a drinking game, but there’s little by way of charm or camaraderie between Neeson and his young ward, Jacob Perez (making his debut as Miguel). Initially, a language barrier would suggest the rationale for the lack of communication between the two, but when Miguel’s proficiency in English allows for some more robust sequences, it seems the specter of his recently murdered mother and any uneasiness about who he’s being placed with in Chicago are suspiciously negligible details.

When Jim finagles a gun purchase without the proper background checks, The Marksman begins to fray uncontrollably, even as it finally heralds the showdown between curmudgeon and cartel with a sequence which is at least suggestive of what the title promises. Brief snippets of Mauricio’s background are meant to suggest Miguel would share a similar fate if returned to Mexico, to be trained and reared as a cartel soldier. However, the exposition regarding Mauricio (including the death of his brother at the hands of Jim) require a bit more finesse to make even these small details seem anything beyond exploitative stereotyping.

Still, The Marksman is a notch above recent Neeson offerings like Honest Thief (2020) or something like David Ayer’s poorly attenuated The Tax Collector (2020), which tries to depict similarly complex realities through a white, machismo lens.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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