It’s still crazy to look at the path the powers-that-be sent Liam Neeson down over the past twenty years. Terminator of human traffickers, bottle-knuckled brawler of wolves and expert fence jumper, Neeson has faced off against an array of foes with the odd misfire in between. The Marksman is unfortunately just such an entry in the long line of his action-packed repertoire that is unfortunately way off target.
Dropping down a few gears from the high-octane sessions we’re used to seeing Neeson get himself in, here he plays a long in the tooth rancher, who flies through the checklist of cranky old heroes with nothing to lose the second we meet him. Widowed and living out his days with his trusty dog and a ranch he can’t afford, former marine, Jim (Neeson) is hit with a crisis of conscience on the Arizona border, in the form of a young boy fleeing cartel soldiers. No sooner can you say, “you’ve got the wrong guy, I can’t help you”, does Jim end up being just that. Taking the young stranger under his wing and across the country, he hits the road with the goons hot on his tail, and their leader Mauricio bent on corrupting Miguel for the cartel’s benefit.
From the off, The Marksman feels like a Clint Eastwood vehicle that never got off the ground and runs at a similar pace. Inhaling the fumes of Gran Torino and A Perfect World, it makes sense given director Robert Lorenz was Clint’s first AD for almost a dozen of his films. The legend even gets some brief screen time on Jim’s hotel TV as he and his ward watch Hang ‘Em High, ensuring that he’s indeed there in spirit. If only the man filling in his metaphorical boots had as much life in him here, as well.
Neeson may be present and seen growling at gang bangers and capping the odd one with his trusty rifle, but these heated altercations are few and far between, drastically impeding what little thrill of the chase there is. This choice could be permissible if peace time in between this hunt up the highway was spent actually fleshing out both our hero and the kid he’s sworn to protect, but even that is given barely any attention or thought.
The absolute crucial ingredient to a road trip, besides a decent playlist, is that the party hitting the open road click either immediately, or somewhere down the way. With The Marksman the two never really gel, which leads to Lorenz’s efforts at landing emotional jabs barely impactful. The must-have pit stop at a diner, and a thoughtful trip to a church could have added the weight these two are in need of carrying, but none of it brings them any closer. You’d find more drama, tension and relationship building on an episode of Coach Trip.
The fault certainly isn’t with the central pair, as Neeson has proven time and again he can pull the heartstrings when he wants to, but there’s really nothing to Jim that hasn’t been done before and better. Besides a late-night heart-to-heart with his onscreen step daughter (a massively under-utilised Katheryn Winnick of Vikings fame), he’s left to let the worn down looks across the picturesque Route 66 do the talking, because there’s certainly none between him and his passenger. In fact, the biggest bit of bonding the two have is target practise, which sets up a rather questionable battle plan in the film’s final act.
The frustrating thing with The Marksman is that as generic as its formula may be, it’s one that’s proved successful so many times before. However, this particular version that’s bottled has been left unattended with the cap off. What we’ve got is a flat and uninteresting action thriller that fails to conjure either. In the end, this story of an old dog with one last fight in him is as bland as they come. Sure it may sound like the perfect vehicle for our old mate Neeson to have a go at, but with boring characters, and one long uneventful drive, The Marksman is shooting blanks on a half full clip.
THE MARKSMAN IS AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL FROM APRIL 27, 2021
BLU-RAY AND DVD MAY 11, 2021 (WITH BONUS BTS CONTENT) FROM UNIVERSAL PICTURES HOME ENTERTAINMENT