Directed By Robert Lorenz
Starring – Liam Neeson, Katheryn Winnick, Theresa Ruiz
The Plot – A rancher (Neeson) on the Arizona border becomes the unlikely defender of a young Mexican boy (Jacob Perez) desperately fleeing the cartel assassins who’ve pursued him into the U.S.
Rated PG-13 for violence, some bloody images and brief strong adult language
– Vast geography. In channeling a proper visual compass of a cross-country journey, Lorenz and cinematographer Mark Patten zero in on a combination of agricultural and cultural varieties that breed believability in the abundance of mileage that this film’s storytelling takes us through. Aside from distinct differences between the Arizona desert and Chicago’s metropolitan cityside, there’s a beautiful consistency of capture from Patten involving these wide angle drone schemes that not only colorfully illustrate these vibrant textures within a dark and desolate land, but also articulate isolation in the form of its protagonist, for a life with many circumstantial voids. Aside from this, some of the film was shot relatively close to my home, in Ravenna, Ohio, and occasionally provided me with the challenge of noticing particular aspects of environment that I could distinguish as those of my own.
– Liam’s accuracy. At this point, Neeson could do these kind of roles in his sleep, but there’s an abundancy of respect and underlying emotion to his role here as Jim that supplants a layer of empathetic investment for the character with regards to us the audience. On a physical level, this portrayal asks slightly less of Neeson than his previous work, calling only on him occasionally to flex his ulterior badass bone when conflict seems inevitable, but his deliveries in the realm of emotional depth transcends this performance as one that is surprisingly substantial given what little he is left to work with in flailing characterization. The same can be said of Eight-Year-Old Jacob Perez, whose sly demeanor and humbling psychology works wonders in conjuring a chemistry with Neeson that better helps push the slow points of the film along, and provide a near father/son dynamic that preserves importance with each character in the eyes of the other.
– Bang for buck. While most of the movie’s problems reside around the underwhelming script and on-the-nose dialogue, the look and feel of the film make the most of the movie’s miniscule 3 million dollar budget, which could’ve made obviousness leap from the canvas from the get-go. In fact, this very much maintains that air of big screen atmosphere because of the patient editing and soft color correction for the film that if nothing else does make this a visually inviting movie towards pulling you in to this environment and often seedy characters in the same way “Sicario” or “Hell or High Water” perfected with homage to classic western’s. Combine this with the movie’s shrapnal sound design, which echoes and rattles through the movie’s few action sequences, and you at least have a reasoning for the extension in shelf life that has graced Neeson’s pictures in the twilight of his prominent career.
– Out of the gate. I admire that this film wastes little time in getting its story arc started, or placing its pieces in order for the movie’s central conflict. In fact, the first act of the movie was the overwhelming climax for me, moving through a pacing that unfortunately didn’t remain consistent with the rest of the film, as well as pertaining to an urgency that remains hooked on the shoulders of our protagonists through a smothering of initial anxiety. There’s some backstory for Neeson’s Jim that not only outlines his financial troubles, but also paints the picture for the kind of losses in his life that has unfortunately shaped his jaded disposition. Likewise, the illegal immigration spin, while a bit overused in cinema, does feel as socially relevant now as ever before, breeding commentary in its scenario that feeds further into the many conversation pieces pertaining to it. If the other two acts were on the level of these impactful opening 30 minutes, then it could’ve kept audiences throughout, and justified more of the 102 minutes of screen time that exceeded the movements and advancements of the story.
– Stern seriousness. Part of what I can appreciate about this film is that the tonal capacity remained consistent despite the fact that evolution between Neeson and Perez characters calls for the occasional humor to release audience tension through some hefty sequences. I did laugh one particular time in the movie, but it was more served as the awkwardness of the situation and delivery of the actor, and not necessarily what the scene was calling for. It keeps the focus on the grip of an antagonist as deadly as the cartel, as well as the overall dangerousness of the situation that these two characters find themselves enveloped in, remaining truthful to the tone of the situation without catering to an audience who require some light-hearted personality to cement their good time.
– Trivial action. There are underwhelming set pieces, mostly of hand-to-hand design, which are solved quickly with little to no consequential relevance to what transpires, and others where the absence of action in the foreground of the film left me wondering what was the dominant genre of “The Marksman’s” classification. On the latter, there’s around fifty minutes of the film’s progression with only a minor dust-up to satisfy those craving some level of similarity with Neeson’s familiar bread and butter. On the former, the lacking quality in angles and grounded ambition for anything memorable dooms this to plain Jane territory, and ultimately renders this film’s few opportunities to dazzle as a disappointing form of conventionalism that lacked memorability.
– Derivative screenplay. This can be said in comparison to the many better Neeson films that it will inevitably compared to, or the obviousness in familiarity that make everything that transpires highly detectable from a mile away. This begins the on-the-nose problems with the movie’s exposition that are as obvious as Tyler Perry playing a woman, and only pop up to feed into a direction for the events that it will heavily influence. One such example involves a shot radiator in Neeson’s truck that is temporarily patched up to get him back on the road. Anyone with half a brain will figure out where this is headed with very little difficulty. There are also conveniences for the cartel antagonist, which allow them to track Neeson’s every move without him knowing, which is a problem when you’ve already established him as the survivalist of sorts who thinks ten moves ahead of his opposition at all times.
– Flat characterization. Both sides of the coin are the problem here, limiting our appeal with these characters that play a pivotal role in our investment towards the film. The generic cartel is every scary legend that has been passed down through over 300 films over the last two decades, finalized with a complete lack of humanity that could otherwise unconventionalize their character outlines. On the protagonist side of things, Neeson’s character is given occasional glimpses into a backstory involving trials with alcoholism, ghosts of his past as a solidier, and the untimely death of his wife, but none of it leads to anything substantial to the development of his character that even remotely justifies its inclusion to the script. One such instance involves a throwaway scene with Perez, over the discussion of Heaven and God, and Neeson’s complete lack of belief in either. It’s a one-off, one-time mention that doesn’t translate into anything that is further substantial, and alludes to the collection of crumbs in the movie’s think tank that never make a satisfying whole meal.
– Pointless title. When you think about “The Marksman”, you think about a title that alludes to a man, probably soldier, whose time on the battlefield allows his influence to be showcased all over this film, but that is rarely if ever the case with what we’re presented. There are two scenes involving Neeson with a gun in hand, one of which shows off nothing that is remotely impressive to the level that signified this in the movie’s title summary, and the other that while impressive, doesn’t constitute enough in its limited usage to worth mentioning. You could just as easily call this “The Dish Washer” or “The Rent Payer”, and it would’ve had as much consequential relevance as to what is displayed in the film, and really undersold some key areas of development and uniqueness to the film that could’ve allowed it to stand out in a barrage of Neeson filmography that unfortunately rubs together.
– White savior. You knew this one was coming. Another movie where a white man saves people of color from their own cultural demises. If this was just a framing device in the movie, I could overlook it enough, but when you factor it with an ages old stereotype of Mexican drug addicts and cartels, then it becomes a problem that is every bit offensive as it is asinine in the complexity of a film world that is progressing from its own ideals. For this installment, it’s “Savior” is kindly imperfect enough, but his imperfections are ones that don’t hinder his capabilities in battling through the demons and the antagonists that surround him. Because the movie focuses so little on the backstories it introduces then never follows through on, he’s never forced to confront his own inferiorities, an aspect that plays into this cliche more than anything previously mentioned, and one that stinks this film to being the second worse Neeson action effort behind “Taken 3”.
My Grade: 5/10 or D