It’s become something of a joke—the fact Liam Neeson has a particular set of skills—but this time around, he gets to show them off in a brand new setting and story. The Northern Irish actor who seamlessly transitioned from a deeply dramatic early career into an action-filled one in his 50s, once again pulls out a gun (this time it’s a shotgun) and faces off against the bad guys in Robert Lorenz’s The Marksman.
The story of an unlikely hero, Jim (Neeson) is an ex-Marine sharpshooter-turned-Arizona rancher who doesn’t hesitate when it comes to calling border patrol when he sees migrants entering his country on foot from Mexico. When a woman (Teresa Ruiz) and her son Miguel (Jacob Perez) find themselves pushed into the U.S. after inadvertently becoming caught in a drug cartel’s crosshairs, Jim becomes the family’s unlikely saviour. As the tension mounts and the risks pile up, he finds himself shepherding them on their path to safety in Chicago.
Of course, Jim’s daughter (Katheryn Winnick) happens to be a cop who advises her dad against every single action he takes—setting up some family conflict as the cartel inevitably closes in. As the movie reaches its eventual climax, Jim gets to use that particular set of Marine skills in one last fight to the finish.
Director Lorenz’s lean take doesn’t offer much depth here or strive to create characters beyond the prototypical action caricatures you’d come to expect in a movie like this. Neeson does well as the hard and grizzled man at the heart of the dusty drama, which plays out like a formulaic thriller around him. He’s gruff but has a good heart and will, eventually, do the right thing. Thus he saves the day and learns, hey, undocumented immigrants are people too! Sure, there’s a hefty dose of “white saviour-ism” to be found, but Neeson elevates the script into what is a serviceable thriller.
Both Neeson and viewers could do much worse.
The definition of “fine”, The Marksman isn’t a film you’re going to remember and does little to stand out from Neeson’s other recent forgettable action roles in films like Honest Thief or The Commuter. What it is, is a largely viable movie with moderate action sequences that are entertaining enough thanks to Neeson’s presence. Without him, the film might have fared quite differently.
In the end, perhaps the greatest of Neeson’s particular skills is his ability to elevate a passable film into one that is worth 108 minutes of our time.
The Marksman will have its digital release in Canada on April 20.