The Marksman

The Marksman feels like it might have been written with Clint Eastwood in mind. The main character is similar to the ones he has played several times in his later career as an actor – a somber, bordering on cranky older man who is drawn back into violence after begrudgingly deciding to put his prejudices aside and help someone else. In fact, the movie was directed and co-written by Eastwood's longtime producer Robert Lorenz (Trouble with the Curve). Liam Neeson is the star here, though, and that's really the only unexpected thing about the picture.

He plays Jim Hanson, a retired Marine sharpshooter and current widower who lives on a small ranch along the Arizona border. He spends his days roaming around in search of illegal aliens who have crossed over so he can report them. One afternoon, he encounters a Mexican woman and her 11-year-old son. On the other side of the wall are three members of a cartel intent on killing them. Jim pulls out his rifle, leading to a shootout in which the woman is fatally injured. Before dying, she offers him all the stolen cartel money in her bag if he'll promise to get the boy, Miguel (Jacob Perez), to some relatives in Chicago. Jim's ranch has just been foreclosed upon, so...

You get the picture. Of course the cartel members, led by Mauricio (Juan Pablo Raba), chase after them. Jim also has a step-daughter, Sarah (Kathryn Winnick), who works inside Customs and Border Patrol, basically covering for him as he hauls an illegal immigrant halfway across the country – when she isn't begging him to turn around and come home, that is. It probably goes without saying that Jim warms up to Miguel, and that everything ends with a violent standoff.

The Marksman adheres firmly to a formula. Every plot point is pretty much a foregone conclusion from the start. That doesn't mean the movie fails to offer any sort of enjoyment. The formula has no surprises, but it's executed in a satisfactory manner. Neeson is very good as Jim, making the character's irascibility more nuanced than Eastwood would have. We feel the sense of loss that has overtaken his life, a sense that might be improved by giving someone else a shot at a better future.

The film's intermittent action scenes are well done, too. Lorenz avoids making them feel too Hollywood-y, instead playing them as they might actually go down in real life. They have a raw, less staged feeling. The Marksman generates some suspense during other sequences, with Jim and Miguel attempting to outwit or escape Mauricio. A close call at a motel is particularly tense.

This is one of those cases where a movie isn't bad, it just isn't anything special, either. The Marksman would have benefited from finding one or two original ingredients to shake the formula up. Maybe making Jim less of a pre-ordained good guy, or having Sarah be more integral to the plot, or depicting Mauricio as something other than a stereotypical wild-eyed killer. Consequently, the film falls into that “time killer” category. If you have two hours to waste, it's certainly passable entertainment. On the other hand, if you want to see something that really grabs you, this isn't quite it.

out of four

The Marksman is rated PG-13 for violence, some bloody images and brief strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 46 minutes.