There is a reason why award-winning actor Liam Neeson is one of the highest box office grossing actors in the history of film. I suppose one could describe him as a quiet superhero as his soft, gravelly voice is highly recognizable and nearly always is understated. His characters don’t exhibit a flamboyant show of strength but his retaliations are swift and oftentimes deadly to those who injure anyone in his orbit. We’ve seen him in myriad films, too extensive to list, from the classic Schindler’s List, to Cold Pursuit, Michael Collins, Rob Roy, The Commuter, Unknown, Clash of the Titans and the riveting Taken franchise where in the first film, after his daughter has been kidnapped, he tells one of the bad guys in a quietly determined voice, “I have a particular set of skills…that make me a nightmare for people like you.” In a way, his character of Bryan Mills’ quiet persistence could be the hallmark of many of his characters, steady, strong, and determined. This brings me to the film at hand, in which his special skill set is his accuracy as a marksman.
In The Marksman, directed by Robert Lorenz, who co-wrote the script with Chris Charles and Danny Kravitz, Neeson stars as Jim Harrison, a widower and ex-Marine sharpshooter who earned the Medal of Honor. With his happier days behind him, he lives an isolated life in Arizona, near the U.S. Mexican border. There is nothing around him except miles and miles of arid land, nicely captured by cinematographer Mark Patten, whose sweeping camera work illuminates the abject emptiness of that region. A rancher, Jim’s life has fallen apart since his wife died, with her illness draining him financially. His ranch, which he shares with his dog Jackson, is run-down and the bank is ready to foreclose. He tries to sell what’s left of his cow herd, but they are undersized and won’t fetch the $20,000 needed to cure his arrears. His attempts at getting day work also fail, with his age being a factor. What starts out as a remarkably uneventful day is about to change as this quiet man is thrown into a tailspin as he grapples with obeying the law or taking a dangerous action. As he is driving around in his pick-up truck, he sees a man, a woman, and a young boy desperately searching for a hole in the border fence. They are being pursued and shot at by a gang which belongs to the Vasquez drug cartel. The super bad ass, and leader of the gang of assassins, is Mauricio, well played by Juan PabloRaba. Rounds of bullets fly, and the boy’s uncle is mortally wounded. As he is lay dying, he hands his sister Rosa (Teresa Ruiz) a bag and a piece of paper with the address of family living in Chicago. At first, Jim wants to call border patrol where his stepdaughter Sarah (Katheryn Winnick) works. Rosa begs him not to call, but he does anyway on his walkie-talkie. Unfortunately, mom doesn’t make it and Jim is now faced with what to do with Miguel, the eleven-year-old boy, superbly played by Jacob Perez. In short order, Jim realizes the bad guys want the boy and the bag, which turns out to be cartel money which the uncle had stolen. Not a good idea wouldn’t you say? At first, Miguel doesn’t answer any of Jim’s questions leading him to assume the boy doesn’t understand English. Finally, he speaks and hostile exchanges begin between them. Not trusting this stranger, the young “fugitive” tries escaping a few times, but always winds up back in the pick-up truck. After maintaining his rough exterior, Jim helps bury the boy’s mom and slowly begins to soften. On the way, he stops at a church so the priest can say a blessing for Miguel’s his mother. Now what would a Neeson action movie be without a respectable body count and a high-octane car chase? Fear not as there is a doozy of one during which the bad guys, in hot pursuit, get into an almost fatal accident where their car flips over several times and is demolished. Did this stop them? I’m afraid not, as all but one emerge from the car wreck battered and bloodied with renewed determination to retrieve the money, as the consequences of failing would be worse than the injuries sustained in the demolished car. In the meantime, thinking his little fugitive might be better off with the authorities, he drops Miguel off at the local Customs and Border Patrol Station. However, spotting the bad guys again, Jim realizes that if they get the boy, they will kill him. He goes back to the station and surreptitiously retrieves the boy who was waiting to be sent back to Mexico where he would await a bad fate. A deep bond has now formed between the two of them, a bond that was nowhere in sight when they first met.
So, this is really a story about doing the right thing and acting with integrity even though it resulted in Jim leaving a bunch of dead bodies in his wake. He is the good guy and good guys do good things even if there are consequences. Starting with a well-written script and Lorenz’s excellent directing, we see an arc to Neeson’s characterization. He starts out as a crusty, isolated guy who morphs into a sensitive superhero who saves the day. But, at what cost?
Distributor: Open Road Release
Where: In Select Theatres
Running Time: 107 Minutes