Review: Liam Neeson’s ‘The Marksman’ misses its target

On the road (again) — Jacob Perez, left, and Liam Neeson are fleeing cops and cartel guys in "The Marksman."
On the road (again) — Jacob Perez, left, and Liam Neeson are fleeing cops and cartel guys in “The Marksman.”
(Briarcliff / Open Road)

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Nov. 23, 2020

Liam Neeson is back with another very particular set of skills, but uses them only sparingly, in “The Marksman.”

Neeson plays Jim, a modern-day rancher near the Arizona/Mexico border who has lost his wife to cancer and is about to lose his ranch to foreclosure. He comes across young Miguel (Jacob Perez) and his mother crossing into his property from Mexico as they run from killers; Jim winds up trying to reunite Miguel with relatives in Chicago as feds and bad guys pursue.


“The Marksman” is more drama than thriller, but really more old-fashioned western than anything else — and a familiar one at that. It’s a tale we’ve seen often, most recently in the Paul Greengrass-Tom Hanks “News of the World”: The struggling old cowboy (-ish) doesn’t want any part of the desperate innocent but ends up taking him/her on a dangerous journey.

The tension-free narrative moves slowly and stumbles over head-slapping moments (you’re carrying what looks like hundreds of thousands in cash, you’re on the run from the cartel and the feds, and you’re ... using your credit card all over the place?). The few-and-far-between action sequences are OK; they’re kind of low-key, though from the “Sicario”-quoting score, one assumes this is meant to be a thriller.

Actually, it’s not clear why the film is called “The Marksman,” as that ability only pops up in a couple of scenes and isn’t otherwise a defining characteristic of Jim’s, or even discussed. The film’s really about the relationship between Jim and Miguel but doesn’t explore either character deeply enough, or their interaction uniquely enough, to have emotional impact.

It’s a simplistic, closed-loop moral universe in which the major plot thread is tied up too neatly and others are pretty much forgotten. Also, good-guy gun shop owners know mandated background checks aren’t needed if the buyer looks OK (heck, they’ll even report the guns stolen if bad guys use them), Mexico is indeed not sending its best and the act of teaching a young boy to shoot is more awesome in front of a red-white-and-blue eagle mural. When it comes to the “IAs” (illegal aliens), Jim growls, “It would be fine if the government would get its s— together and figure that mess out.” In lieu of immigration reform, the film offers a truck ride with Jim. A bunch of folks die.

“The Marksman” has a couple of meta moments, as when a Clint Eastwood movie pops up on TV (director Robert Lorenz is a longtime Eastwood collaborator) or Neeson declines to release the Kraken (he picks up, then declines a bottle of booze marked “Kraken”). However, its lasting impression is of a tensionless road trip that hits potholes of its own making. For a far-superior road movie that actually does delve into Mexican-American relations and takes the value of life seriously, audiences will have to wait another week until “No Man’s Land” is released Jan. 22.

Two families are shattered, setting off a search for redemption in the Allyn Brothers’ “No Man’s Land”

Jan. 21, 2021

'The Marksman'

Rated: PG-13 for violence, some bloody images and brief strong language

Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

Playing: Starts Jan. 15 in general release where theaters are open