The Marksman (2021) Movie Review: Off Target

There is no debating that Liam Neeson is the one big-name actor currently working in Hollywood who is able to get a standard action thriller to theaters when the film is obviously more suitable for VOD viewing. Even actors like Nicolas Cage, John Travolta, and Bruce Willis don’t have the opportunities to turn each of their 2010- and-beyond action movies into first-run theatrical releases that appear on more than 1,000 screens. A few may slip through the cracks, but most are readily available for viewing at home on the day of release. All the consumer has to do is pay the $7 fee to watch it the same day it gets either no or a very limited theatrical release, pop some popcorn, and take a seat in their favorite couch or recliner.

Neeson, on the other hand, has been very fortunate to have practically all of his action thrillers post-Taken make their way to the big screen. It has become an annual event for these films and somewhat of a running joke at the same time. Granted, there are some that really shine through (The Grey, for example), and then there are some that are a chore (the Taken sequels). These offerings are also better- made and sometimes bigger-budgeted, compared to a lot of what Cage, Travolta, and Wills put their names on. But, most of the time, the movies in which Neeson stars come off as the same thing every single year.

The Marksman is the latest in an unintentional (or maybe intentional at this point?) series of features in which the Oscar-nominated actor portrays a man with a particular set of skills. And if you cross him, he will bring harm to those involved. It’s as if those who work on the film have Neeson in mind for each of these screenplays, and that’s how they’re able to get them into theaters – even though most are closed at this time.

Surprisingly, this one is not as action-heavy as the trailers might make it seem. That’s a good thing, but it’s also as if the people behind the scenes took every cliche they could find and applied it here. Director Robert Lorenz, known mostly for working with Clint Eastwood numerous times, tries to make The Marksman along the same lines of later-year films like Gran Torino, but it lacks the sharpness, wit, and dramatic moments that made that movie special. This just plays on the screen and doesn’t move the needle in any direction.

In The Marksman, Neeson plays a former Marine named Jim, who lives alone on a large ranch near the border of Arizona and Mexico. A recent widower, whose wife’s ashes are spread up on a nearby hill, Jim’s property is consistently being hounded by the bank, and he’s doing the best he can to find some work to pay off the overdue medical debts.

With the location of his property, he has close connections with border patrol – which is also where his estranged daughter Sarah (Katheryn Winnick) is employed. On many occasions, Jim will find illegal immigrants making their way across, and some are in need of medical assistance. So, he hops on the radio for help, and they arrive. But things are different for the instance that drives the plot of this movie. Young Miguel (Jacob Perez) and his mother, Rosa (Teresa Ruiz), are on the run from the cartel, led by Maurico (Juan Pablo Raba). Jim thinks the boy and his mother are just the same as the others and starts to radio for help. But once the cartel shows up at the border, he decides to take Miguel under his wing after Rosa is gunned down.

After the initial encounter, The Marksman becomes more of a road trip movie with very little action in between as Jim’s promise to Rosa was to get Miguel to her family in Chicago. Neeson and Perez share good chemistry as the movie plods along, with every moment as predictable as the next. Jim’s willingness to care for and also open up to Miguel has some heart to it. Raba is intimidating in several key scenes as the main villain, but an attempt to give him a back story falters.

The action scenes that do take place are what you’d expect, as Neeson doesn’t do his own stunts, a la Tom Cruise or Keanu Reeves. They are comprised of quick edits but not quite as headache-inducing as those in the Taken sequels, and they come off as neither exciting nor terribly staged.

There are three categories into which the later-era Neeson action thriller films are placed. They are either great (The Grey), watchable but nothing special (most of them), and then downright terrible (the Taken sequels). The Marksman falls into the category of watchable but nothing special. It’s an easily digestible film, but it doesn’t attempt to make itself different from the rest.

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David Wangberg

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