The Marksman is a sturdy and uncomplicated but mostly satisfying entry into the Neeson oeuvre of stoic, righteous masculinity.
Another exercise in stoicism and dignified masculinity, replete with a dash of reactionary violence and a grizzled lead performance? Smells like a Liam Neeson movie. In The Marksman, Neeson plays down-on-his-luck Arizona rancher Jim. He’s underwater with the bank, his cattle are falling to wolves (which he methodically picks off with his scoped M1), and, of course, he’s haunted by both his time in the Marines — he’s killed people, you see — and the death of his wife — she was great, he’ll always be sad. Maybe it’s redemption or just renewed purpose, but whatever that something is, it’s what fortune has in store for Jim when he stumbles across a woman and her young son popping through the border fence with a group of cartel villains in hot pursuit. Because he’s so grizzled and dignified, at first he calls in the border patrol, but after the mother is killed in a brief shootout with the bad guys, Jim honors her dying wish to take the boy (Jacob Perez) to some distant family in Chicago. What follows is a combination road trip/chase movie wherein Jim learns that he’s a really good guy who’s just sad, and that the kid is nice and doesn’t deserve to be killed by drug dealers (they want some money his mom apparently stole).
That there’s almost nothing to The Marksman is frankly part of its charm. It’s competently executed, morally certain, and fundamentally incurious about anything beyond checking off the boxes in its script. It’s designed only to be satisfying, and even though Jim doesn’t do much marksman-ing until the last 15 minutes or so, it is indeed just that. There’s a leisurely pace, some lovely scenery, earnest moments of quiet bonding between Neeson and the boy, and ample suspense generated by the very mean cartel guys leaving a trail of bodies in their wake as they give pursuit. It’s thoroughly uncomplicated but so sturdily executed that it reminds you of the sort of movie Clint Eastwood might star in but leave it to one of his longtime producers to direct (it even comes complete with a thoroughly uninterrogated view of its non-white characters). Lo and behold, this was written and helmed by Robert Lorenz, whose last directorial effort was indeed Clint’s Trouble with the Curve, which is in its way the same movie, just minus the drug dealing and marksmanship. As far as the ever-growing Neeson oeuvre goes, this is far better than recent effort Honest Thief or any of the Takens, but not quite on the level of serious cornball weirdness like Cold Pursuit, nor is it as idiosyncratic or thoughtful as, say, A Walk Among the Tombstones. It’s rather squarely fixed right in the middle, the king of film guaranteed a long life on cable. In other words, your dad will love it.