NOTE: I watched this film via a digital screener from the comfort my own home. Before hitting the multiplex, please consider the health risks involved with participating in group gatherings. Take very good care of yourselves – I wanna see you on the other side.
“Ah, it’s a cruel world.”
Story: Miguel is just a kid living his life in Mexico. But when his mom Rosa gets a call from her brother saying they need to run because the cartel will be after them to “teach [others] a lesson”? They do. Meanwhile in Naco, AZ – right on the border between the USA and Mexico – Jim Hanson raises cattle, tries to avoid foreclosure on his ranch, and reports “IA” crossings to Border Patrol via walkie-talkie. But when Jim sees Rosa and Miguel, things take a turn to the dangerous. Seems the cartel has followed them. Will Jim help? Well, after a bit.
Genre I’d put it in: Clint Eastwood-esque Protection Thrillers
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Hints of 70s Eastwood and Neeson’s tough guy oeuvre, but original.
Gotta say: Neeson is a retired Marine working with a certain set of clichés in this paint by numbers thriller. While fans of the genre will find lots to enjoy here, casual Neeson aficionados will be wanting more.
Not that Neeson doesn’t give it his all. As Jim, a man who’s seen way too much and lost even more, his world weary attitude has a steel spine ready to go the distance whenever he decides there’s duty afoot. Problem is, he’s typically drunk, and/or completely apathetic. But his honor is stirred by Miguel’s plight, especially as Jim is a big reason why Rosa doesn’t make it beyond the first few feet of American soil. He’s not a bad guy, just one who’s sick of thinking too hard about anything. Jim’s arc is wobbly, but will stand if you don’t think too much about all his out of nowhere waffling.
Thinking too hard about this movie in general will show all the glue and tape the screenwriters used to hold this story together. Marksman harks back to 70s action films like The Gauntlet, and while that can be a good thing in that it’s an easy watch, the it’s a film built on tropes, patched together with clichés. The bad guys are absolutely irredeemable (stick a pin in that, we’ll come back to it), the kid is a cute cypher, and we even get that bullshit plot device, the bad guy killing the dog. (#SorryNotSorry – I know I’m not the only one who hates that John Wick ripoff crap, and so I’m dropping this tidbit. You’re welcome.)
The climax is the usual “baddies picked off one by one til only The Bad remains” shootout. Neeson and Juan Pablo Raba sell it well, but I couldn’t help but think that I was buying same old thing. And getting back to that “bad guys are irredeemable” thing? The film tries to throw a little bit of sympathy their way, with Raba’s Macurio spouting off about how he was just like Miguel before Mac was kidnapped and turned into a soldier for the cartel. “You think I had a choice? I never had a choice!” Perhaps if this back story had been hinted at earlier in the film, I’d have given half a damn. But Mac is 110% immoral throughout the film; a last minute Hail Mary hint of his broken psyche isn’t enough for anyone to really care. Too little too late, my dude.
This film isn’t bad…it’s just average. The cinematography is fine, the performances are good enough, and the story is interesting enough to keep me interested without my resorting to Candy Crush to get through. Yeah I’m damming Marksman with faint praise, but it’s all I’ve got.
#Protip: Jim’s tough life as a rancher on the border isn’t made up for the film. There are folks who say their livelihoods are in jeopardy with current wall placement. Others believe that it won’t do anything to truly protect them, and would rather have more “boots on the ground”.