The Marksman Misses The Mark.
2008’s Taken has a lot to answer for. It wasn’t a bad film, but by turning Liam Neeson into an aged action hero, it opened the floodgates for a slew of other films that positioned Neeson as the older generation’s John Wick. Two sequels followed, neither as good as the first. And the actor then starred in other films to capitalize on his heroic new status, with the likes of Non-Stop, The Commuter, and Honest Thief showcasing his ‘particular set of skills’ when saving the day.
I don’t have a problem with Neeson’s action-man image but the quality of the films that have showcased this have been variable, at best. His latest film, The Marksman, is more thoughtful than most, but it isn’t very good. Now streaming on Amazon Prime, this one stars Neeson as Jim, an ex-Marine Corp vet, who lives off the land from his Arizona cattle ranch.
Within minutes of the film starting, we learn that Jim’s ranch is being put up for foreclosure. This is because he is unable to pay off his home loan as his late wife’s medical bills crippled his finances. We also find out that Jim is a recovering alcoholic. It’s this kind of backstory that gives the film an air of familiarity. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this but it’s indicative of the film’s overall lack of originality.
After this initial setup, the story progresses when Jim takes a young Mexican boy, Miguel, under his wing. The boy’s mother has been shot dead by typical cartel stereotypes and as is common in film’s of this type, Jim tasks himself with the mission of protecting him. What we have next is a road movie of sorts with Jim, his dog, and the boy, fleeing the country with the cartel bad guys hot on their heels.
Neeson takes on the kind of role that Clint Eastwood may have played 10 years ago. There are similarities to that actor’s Gran Torino, another film where a grizzly old war veteran protects the life of a youngster. The director of The Marksman, Robert Lorenz, has actually worked with Eastwood in the past, so it’s of little surprise that this latest film evokes memories of that legendary actor. But whereas most of Eastwood’s films benefited from quality scripting, this latest effort falls down because of its plot holes and clichés.
This isn’t to say the story has nothing to offer. Despite the occasional shootout and car chase scene, it’s more than just another “run and gun” action film. Within the basic thriller plot is a side-story that touches on the plight of immigrants so it is a tad more thoughtful than some other films in the genre. However, as Jim journeys with Miguel to Chicago, the home of the boy’s other relatives, there are very few surprises to maintain interest.
As is usual in this kind of film, Jim and Miguel bond, fall out, and become friends again. Jim’s tough demeanour inevitably softens as their relationship deepens and Miguel’s hostility towards the older man eventually fades. The film turns into an action weepie rather than an action thriller, which wouldn’t be a bad thing if it didn’t feel so predictable.
At this point, you might assume the film isn’t worth watching. And on one level, it probably isn’t, especially if you’re looking for a lot of gunplay and movie star heroics. Despite the film’s title, Jim rarely shows off his marksmanship skills, which raises the question, why slap a generic name onto it? The answer is probably obvious, of course. I imagine it was chosen to bring in the Taken crowd who want to see another Neeson action flick where he fights against the odds. But as I alluded, those tuning in to see him kick ass are going to be disappointed.
There are some highlights. The relationship between Jim and Miguel, while contrived, does offer a few sweet moments. And the ending, while mostly expected, does offer up one surprise before the credits roll. Those audience members willing to adjust to the film’s slow pace and occasional melancholic tone may be less critical than those expecting something more explosive.
However, with a conventional script and a large number of plot inconsistencies, this too often misses the mark. It’s not as bad as the recent run of Bruce Willis movies that have gone to streaming. Unlike that ageing actor, Neeson’s career hasn’t died hard (sorry)! However, now might be the time for him to give up the action heroics to focus on films that are far more appropriate for his age and his well-lauded acting talents.
Verdict - 6/10