If Clint Eastwood watches The Marksman and then says “that Irishman is taking my roles” then you really couldn’t blame him. The Marksman’s hero Jim is almost your stereotypical Eastwood role. A rancher, almost disenfranchised with the world around him who is lost in his sorrow and doesn’t mind a good drink now and then. Also like most Eastwood films this is a film with grit that is certainly a must see in the cinemas.
As you would guess Jim (Liam Neeson – The Grey) is a bit of a loner. He has been that way since the death of his wife a few years earlier. He spends his days working on his hard-hit ranch and occasionally helping out the US Border Forces when he finds illegal aliens who have made the dangerous trip over the Mexico/US border.
Jim is not a snitch though, no it seems like he phones in his reports due to the fact that his step-daughter Sarah (Katheryn Winnick – Vikings) works for the border forces. However Jim sees a different side to the aliens crossing the border when he finds himself helping young Miguel (Jacob Perez – Papa Bear) and his mother Rosa (Teresa Ruiz – Narcos: Mexico) who cross the border with the cartel hot on their tail.
The resulting fire-fight sees Jim shoot dead several of the cartel members including the brother of determined leader Mauricio (Juan Pablo Raba – Peppermint) who then uses his corrupt colleagues to find his way into American and look for vengeance.
The plot of The Marksman is pretty simple. An ex-vet drives across country with a young refugee while being pursued by the cartel – it certainly wouldn’t have taken a scriptwriting genius to come up with the pretence. Why the film works is because director Robert Lorenz (Trouble With The Curve) and his other screenwriters steer the film away from the genre’s clichés and continually come up with the creative ways to see Jim and the cartel cross paths.
At times the film’s ‘road-trip’ vibe is a reminder of films like Roadkill and once the audience learns that no character is safe the film takes on a whole new level of suspense. It is that suspense and the great characterisation of Jim and Miguel that hold this film together. Yes, the character of Mauricio is a little stereotypical but at the same time he is so blood-thirsty it makes him a dangerous adversary that you never can predict the nature or actions of.
The real strength of this film though is the acting of Liam Neeson. Whether Neeson had made his mind up about walking away from action films before he made this film I guess we will never know but if this is his finale than at least he can say that he went out on top. So many action heroes turn up to make a film like this and bring nothing to the role – that certainly isn’t the case with Neeson playing rancher Jim.
Neeson puts life into Jim. He makes you care about the character and he can say more with one glance or facial expression that a page full of dialogue could. I recently said that with Honest Thief Neeson looked and showed his age, especially with some laboured chase scenes, but that certainly isn’t the case here. Here Neeson is reminiscent of Clint Eastwood in The Mule or Gran Torino. He is playing his age and it works. Yes this might just be an action drama but Neeson certainly brought his A-Game to the table.
The other strength to The Marksman is the fact that the film shows that every refugee has their own story but it never becomes preachy. There are no ‘up on the box’ moments as Jim launches into a ‘everybody must listen to this’ monologue. No instead the film simply tells the story at hand – a young boy needs the help of an American citizen in order to survive. It is surprising just how more powerful that makes the film.
The Marksman might not be the masterpiece that Let Him Go was but as far as modern day westerns go it is well worth a look. Suspenseful and brought alive by the talents of its leading man this is a film I more than happy to go back and re-visit.