Ploddingly Tedious Marksman a Dramatically Inert Misfire
The Marksman isn’t the blandly routine Liam Neeson Taken-style actioner we’ve all come to expect around this time of year. Robert Lorenz’s (Trouble with the Curve) thriller aims a bit higher than something like The Commuter or Non-Stop, and it’s clear the director and his co-writers Chris Charles and Danny Kravitz have plenty on their minds that they’re hoping to say. This is a somber tale that proudly wears its heart on its sleeve, attempting to achieve a level of empathetic understanding and grace that could potentially be universal in its eventual impact.
The film fails in this endeavor. This is a ponderous slog of a tale that rarely achieves anything close to a lasting impact. Worse, it wastes a fine, typically sturdy performance from Neeson and an even better one from his pint-sized costar Jacob Perez, the child actor doing a splendid job making an impression. It’s a muddled mess that far too often relies upon racial dog whistles to create tension or augment its central villain’s venal cruelty, all of it saddled with a morally complex protagonist who brushes right up against any number of uncomfortable “white savior” archetypal character traits.
Arizona rancher Jim Hanson (Neeson) is an ex-Marine trying to get out from underneath a mountain of medical bills amassed due to the untimely death of his beloved wife. Driving along the border, he encounters Rosa (Teresa Ruiz) fleeing through the fence with her 11-year-old son Miguel (Perez). After calling Border Patrol to pick them up, before they can arrive Hanson is forced to intervene when ruthless drug cartel assassin Mauricio (Juan Pablo Raba) attempts to kill both mother and child.
Shortly thereafter, a mortally wounded Rosa begs the former soldier to get her son to his family in Chicago. While Hanson initially refuses and turns the boy over to Border Patrol supervisor Sarah (Katheryn Winnick), who also happens to be his stepdaughter, he inadvertently observes officers allowing Mauricio to freely re-enter the U.S. without a search. After finding a bag full of cash hidden in his truck his suspicions something ominous is about to happen are confirmed, and if Miguel is going to survive the coming maelstrom he’s going to need protection from someone who hasn’t been corrupted by the cartel’s blood money.
What follows is a fairly standard road trip through the backroads of America, Hanson and Miguel racing against time to get to Chicago before Mauricio tracks them down. They are also forced to dodge law enforcement after an encounter with a State Patrol officer goes sideways, all the while Sarah puts the pieces of the bigger puzzle together while also intervening on her father-in-law’s behalf right when he needs it most. It all builds to a final confrontation between Hanson and Mauricio at a deserted farm, Miguel’s life hanging in the balance depending on the outcome.
Yawn. The whole thing came perilously close to putting me to sleep on multiple occasions. Lorenz paces events so laboriously that even the more intense moments have all the urgency of a tax audit. It’s tiresome, and there were instances I began to wonder if the director was purposefully attempting to hypnotically induce a catatonic reaction from the viewer.
Making all of this so much worse is that Neeson isn’t sleepwalking. He’s trying to give a complex performance, one filled with layers and nuances speaking to current events involving the U.S./Mexico border, health insurance inequities, racial discrimination, white privilege and more. Perez is even better, the youngster managing to do far more with the material than the film deserves. He effortlessly builds chemistry with Neeson, and if the screenwriting cared to do more than traffic in stereotypes the budding father-son dynamic happening between Hanson and Miguel could almost be considered heartwarming.
Lorenz does stage one effective action sequence, and as it is the most pivotal one in the film this is a positive that cannot be summarily dismissed. The confrontation between Hanson and Mauricio is extremely well done, and it’s clear the director did his homework while cutting his teeth working for Clint Eastwood on films like American Sniper, Million Dollar Baby and Space Cowboys. Mark Patten’s (Morgan) cinematography is smooth and uncomplicated, while editor Luis Carballar (Sin Nombre) cuts things together with electrifying simplicity.
None of which matters. The Marksman is borderline offensive in its retrograde cultural depictions, especially as they pertain to Mauricio and his men. The way it almost deifies Hanson as a great white hunter who finds personal redemption in bonding with and protecting Miguel is equally risible, while Winnick’s Border Patrol supervisor is a non-character who all but disappears during the final act. Worst of all, Lorenz’s film is frequently boring, thrills so few and far between even a solid climactic encounter between hero and villain isn’t enough to make this one worthy of a look.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 1½ (out of 4)