A film review by Craig J. Koban April 28, 2021


2021, PG-13, 108 mins.

Liam Neeson as Jim  /  Jacob Perez as Miguel  /  Katheryn Winnick as Sarah  /  Teresa Ruiz as Rosa  /  Juan Pablo Raba as Maurico  /  Dylan Kenin as Randall  /  Luce Rains as Everett Crawford  /  Chase Mullins as Mark

Directed by Robert Lorenz  /  Written by Chris Charles, Danny Kravitz, and Robert Lorenz


I'm usually a staunch apologist for the sub-genre of action films that would be best described as the Aging Liam Neeson takes names and kicks ass series.  I'm a sucker for old and grizzled stars getting their second wind late in their careers in genres that they never once fully occupied, and Neeson is arguably the poster boy for this.  Having said all of that, his latest action thriller in THE MARKSMAN - which features the 68-year-old star play a rancher and guardian of sorts for a Mexican child that's forced to defend him against a vile drug cartel - is an awfully hard one for even me to swallow, and the end result is equal parts mediocre, disposable, and, worst of all, cheaply exploitative. 

And, boy oh boy, does the star ever play the umpteenth variation of the same stock character in THE MARKSMEN, so much so that it becomes an almost laughable element.  He plays Jim Hanson in his latest would-be potboiler, a clichéd checklist hero if there ever was one.  

Ex-Military...check.  Tattooed and Silver Star adorned...check.  American flag flowing in the wind on his porch...check.  Dead wife that's buried close to his home...check.  Retired, but financially troubled because of said wife's medical bills...check.  Home that's almost driven to foreclosure by his bank...check.  A loner driven by his own code...check.  

And so on and so on.  

The former Vietnam War vet is now trying to live a peaceful and secluded life in Southern Arizona along the Mexican border, but is a broken and destitute man after his dearly departed's expensive cancer treatment bills.  He spends most of his free days with his trusted dog patrolling his property and the border, and in the process of doing the latter he doesn't hesitate to report any drifters to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers.   

Jim's fairly low key life changes forever when an on-the-run mother and her young child attempt to cross the border into the US. in order to escape from a crazed drug enforcer, Mauricio (Juan Pablo Raba), and they cross specifically along the border the straddles Jim's land.  When the mother is brutally shot and killed, she makes a last dying wish to Jim for him to protect her child in Miguel (Jacob Perez) and take him to some friends and allies in Chicago.  Oh, and she dies with a big ol' bag of cartel cash in her hands, which complicates matters immensely.  Realizing that time is of the essence and that getting the help of the Feds may prove difficult, Jim takes it upon himself to take the lad in and do whatever he can to get him to the Windy City in one piece.  Predictably, the pair on polar opposite ends of the spectrum grow to learn about each other and become close friends, but with Mauricio and his goon squad constantly in hot pursuit Jim begins to feel the burden of his mission weigh heavily on him.   



THE MARKSMEN, to be blunt, is an idiotically scripted movie through and through.  So many elements are just plain dumb.  Jim is established as a fairly smart and savvy man, but he decides to use a trackable credit card during his escape journey with Miguel, and he does so despite having tons of drug money at his disposal.  Equally head scratching is that the bordering on Mexico residing Jim doesn't speak a syllable of Spanish...like...at all.  Actually, scratch that, he knows a few words here and there, but that's it, which is a flimsy manner that the screenplay by  Chris Charles, Danny Kravitz, and director Robert Lorenz employs to manufacture some cheap tension between the American adult and the Mexican child.  And speaking of manufactured and convenient, Jim also doesn't own a cell phone, which makes basic communication or navigation a problem.  Ultra convenient is his Vietnam veteran status, which makes him both battle hardened and a crack shot with a scoped sniper rifle.  There are other ingredients thrown in here and there are eye-rollingly telegraphed, like the introduction of a road map, a bad radiator in his pick-up truck, and a small handgun that he teaches Miguel to use.  And yup, all of these are paid off later in the most preordained manner possible.  Oh, and as for Jim's cute little doggie that's his most loyal and trusted companion?  You just know that his survival against these drug crooks is 50/50. 

THE MARKSMEN doesn't do its minority roles any favors whatsoever.  The Spanish characters are either (a) hopeless victims or (b) dangerous, murder-death-kill happy thugs with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.  Miguel is perhaps the only minority character that's afforded anything approximating depth, but the script doesn't do much to fully flesh him out.  If anything, both he and the antagonists are just cookie cutter stereotypes that are background elements to help prop up the righteousness and heroism of the Caucasian hero.  THE MARKSMEN could have attained something truly complex and compelling on a character and thematic level when it comes to Jim's past, his worldview, and his moral compass.  In essence, he's established early on as an American that won't balk at all at ratting out undocumented Mexicans when they try to flee across the border, but then is forced to deal with his newfound role as a surrogate father/protector of one immigrant when cruel fate steps in.  Jim's radical change of heart seems to occur in the most simplistic and broad strokes possible.  But hey, he learns to bond with this strange boy through the power of their mutual love of dogs and Pop Tarts.  Is it too much to ask for this cranky lone old man turned action hero/protector of a child arc to be embellished more than it is here? 

A considerable amount of this film reminded me a lot of two vastly different films: RAMBO: LAST BLOOD and the more recent NEWS OF THE WORLD.  Hear me out.  The latter Paul Greengrass western featured, like THE MARKSMEN, a story of a world weary man embarking on a long trek with a child through some hellish challenges.  The last RAMBO sequel featured a climatic third act that's astoundingly similar to that of THE MARKSMEN: An aging Vietnam hero flees to a farm to engage in some guerrilla comeuppance on his pursuers (that, and both films feature white men wreaking havoc on evil people of color in purely sensationalistic fashion).  That's not to say that the action beats in THE MARKSMEN aren't decent in spots.  Lorenz (whom previously worked as a collaborator on many past Clint Eastwood films) does a workmanlike job here; mostly unflashy and uninspired, but serviceable nevertheless (the film only generates a sizeable pulse during its climax, but it's too little, too late).  It's easy to ponder how a film like this could have ended up if made a decade-plus earlier, with a finer script and Eastwood at the helm.  THE MARKSMEN feels like discarded table scraps of the types of Eastwoodian efforts of yesteryear, but not much more. 

Mind you, I still love Neeson to death, and the site of the gravel voiced, stern talking, and poker faced star going toe-to-toe with criminal scum is always an unapologetic and giddy treat as guilty pleasure cinema.  But he has arguably never looked as mannered, stiff, and mostly bored in an action thriller as much as he is here, and it's frankly hard to overlook just how much he's phoning it in with this blatantly obvious paycheck role.  It's not his fault.  THE MARKSMEN has inanely flimsy scripting, lackluster levels of suspense, questionable social/political messaging, and props up white savior troupes to unsavory levels. Neeson is still capable of bringing his A-game in action pictures at late point in his advancing years, but even an proven actor with a particular set of skills can't save this undercooked turkey.  

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