Liam Neeson has less fear and more intestinal fortitude than James Bond or Black Widow. That is because he has opened not one, but two films theatrically during the Covid era. This time around, he still plays to his Taken-style strengths, but also acts his late-60s age in Robert Lorenz’s The Marksman, which is actually playing in brick & mortar New York City theaters.
Jim Hanson was a crack Marine Corps sharpshooter, but that was long ago, during Viet Nam. Most of his life, he was a productive rancher near the Mexican border. Sadly, the love of his life passed away several years ago, after a protracted struggle with cancer. As a result, his Arizona ranch is on the verge of foreclosure. That means he does not have much left to lose.
You can literally see the border from his property, so Hanson is often in contact with the Border Patrol—especially since his grown step-daughter also works for Immigration. One day, he catches Rosa and her young son Miguel, fleeing a vicious Mexican drug cartel through his property. Of course, Hanson cannot help getting involved. After the mother is fatally wounded in a shootout, Hanson reluctantly resolves to take Miguel to his family in Chicago, protecting him from the cartel during their journey. The ruthless Maurico will be hot on their heels, eager to avenge the brother Hanson plugged in the desert.
Basically, The Marksman is equal parts Gran Torino and Rambo: Last Blood, which works pretty effectively, just like it probably sounds. This is Neeson at his most weathered and world-weary, but he is still ultra-steely and hardnosed. The Eastwood vibe is no coincidence, considering Lorenz co-produced many Eastwood films (including Gran Torino) and directed him in his helming debut, Trouble with the Curve. The screenplay, co-written by Lorenz, Chris Charles & Danny Kravitz is mostly a straight-forward action road story, but Neeson has the gravitas to sell it and the chops to propel it.
Neeson really is terrific in the lead, but Juan Pablo Raba offers a surprisingly strong counterbalance, as the antagonist, Maurico. It is a chilling performance, but he also conveys hints of the scarred little boy that evolved into a sociopathic monster. He engenders understanding for the devil, if not sympathy, per se.
Of course, The Marksman starts and ends with Neeson doing his thing. Lorenz capitalizes on the cinematic loneliness of the desert landscape and trusts his star to carry the film’s quiet moments (which are more frequent than you might expect). Arguably, this is a surprisingly mature action film—and a good one.
That makes it a solid, reliable choice for a return to physical theaters. There was more than sufficient social distancing enforced at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square and face masks are duly required. Frankly, there were so few patrons at our screening, Manhattan movie theaters would probably make a good place for mob informers to hide out. Regardless, The Marksman is enthusiastically recommended Neeson action fans. It is now playing in New York theaters.