The Marksman: Review
Synopsis: The Marksman follows Jim (Liam Neeson), a widowed rancher barely getting by on the outskirts of the Arizona border. He becomes the unlikely defender of Miguel (Jacob Perez), an immigrant boy desperately fleeing cartel assassins pursuing their form of justice.
Even as theaters crumble around us, Liam Neeson’s relentless onslaught of run-of-the-mill actioners continues to push onward. Neeson’s steely delivery has served as a promising life preserver for slowly-operating theaters during a period of financial deficits (Honest Thief earned a decent gross in its theatrical run). The star’s latest The Marksman flashes sparks of an old-fashioned action vehicle. Despite the potential, it more or less marks another middling entry in his long-running resume.
As a stout supporter of disposable actioners, Neeson continues to provide a valuable service for the genre. He consistently imbues straight-laced everyman roles with more gravitas than they deserve, capably carrying material that often isn’t up to his talents. As Jim, Neeson discovers a few poignant frames within the character’s inner turmoil. His gravely charms provide a sturdy enough center for the cliched plot threads to take place around. Young co-star Jacob Perez also holds his own within a relatively underwritten role.
While The Marksman ranks among Neeson’s most subdued actioners (there’s sadly no shoot-out on a nosediving plane), director Robert Lorenz creates a visually arresting film along the way. After serving as Clint Eastwood’s long-time assistant director, Lorenz comfortably basks in the atmospheric glow of tried and true westerns. His usage of wide-shots and patient framing becomes an ideal complement for the material’s down-to-earth presentation. I also enjoyed the no-frills grit present within the action frames, with Lorenz smoothly highlighting the simplistic showdowns.
Most of the narrative presses forward without a dull moment, but the mere competence can’t overcome the generally contrived presentation. A script collaborated by three writers (including Lorenz) reduces into one blandly boilerplate effort, drawing from superior actioners without much care or understanding of their contemporaries. The narrative crux of Jim and Miguel’s developing relationship has dramatic potential, but their dynamic lacks the intimacy to properly connect with audiences.
I don’t think the tandem establishes much of a relationship despite the actor’s assured abilities. The two are mostly relegated to generic exchanges lacking in a naturalistic flow. It doesn’t help that The Marksman surrounds itself with poorly-conceived cliches, including villains who are never grounded with thoughtful development (a third act speech does little to forgive their empty blood lust).
There’s some potency buried beneath the mountain of cliches, yet the material never takes itself seriously enough. Lorenz and company seem complacent going through the thoughtless B-movie motions, leaving a few intriguing subplots in the dust along the way (an arc involving Jim’s alcoholism and a vaguely-developed critique of American bureaucracy go nowhere). Lorenz delivers narrative devices with little care of the emotionality behind them, pushing the flat material to the finish line in an empty workman-like manner.
Without well-established characters or a significant action punch, The Marksman is destined to become TV fodder for disinterested dads approaching their nap time. Between this and Honest Thief, I hope Neeson strives for more inspired material going forward.