It definitely helps to give your protagonist a certain “set of skills,” particularly if he is played by that grand master of icy revenge, Liam Neeson. Neeson, impossibly craggy yet as ruggedly handsome as ever, stars in the new film “The Marksman” as Jim, a widowered Arizona rancher with a history in the armed forces and a rather keen eye with a rifle scope—hence the title.
Jim’s ranch abuts the Mexican border, and during one of his daily rounds he comes upon injured migrant Rosa (Teresa Ruiz), who has snuck across the border with her pre-teen son Miguel (Jacob Perez). Rosa and Miguel are fleeing ruthless narcotraffickers, who are none too happy that the two would rather not ferry drugs into the United States.
During a cross-border shootout (whether or not a wall would have stopped this we’ll never know!) Rosa is injured and begs Jim to take care of Miguel. At first, Jim turns Miguel over to Border Protection authorities, but quickly realizes Miguel is no safer there from bad guys than in the open. So, Jim decides to spring Miguel from the facility and abide by Rosa’s wishes to drive her son to safety with relatives in Chicago.
Thus, the combination road trip and cat-and-mouse game is on, as Jim and Miguel cross thousands of miles in Jim’s beat-up truck, all the while evading a band of cartel assassins fronted by stone-faced Mauricio (the fabulously vicious Jaun Pablo Raba).
This being a Neeson movie, he will of course be called on to dispatch baddies with killer efficiency, but this being PG-13 land, the murders are less grotesque than we might have become accustomed to when the Irish actor fronts the proceedings. Thankfully, this relative lack of mayhem allows Jim and Miguel to develop a father-and-son chemistry during their journey. Young Perez does a yeoman’s job with his supportive role, striking that correct note of childlike innocence balanced by having witnessed far too much horror for his age, both of which he leavens with humor.
But you’re here to watch Neeson bust out his rifle, which he shall. Director Robert Lorenz, who co-wrote the script with Chris Charles and Danny Kravitz, allows the film to play out at a non-frenetic pace, with tension and violence interspersed with quieter scenes. The photography of the Southwest is splendid, providing a background for the drama reminiscent of the New Mexico vistas in “Breaking Bad.”
Neeson has made a late-career virtuosity out of these types of films, and they will doubtless continue. “The Marksman” has rather few surprises up its sleeve and takes no chances, but if the formula works, which it clearly does, why change anything?
“The Marksman” comes out today