The Liam Neeson action film has become synonymous with the Clint Eastwood Western. It doesn’t matter what character the actors are playing; you know what to expect when you buy that movie ticket. Director Robert Lorenz who worked with Eastwood on several films including “Million Dollar Baby” and “Mystic River,” takes Neeson’s average-guy character, in this case, Arizona rancher Jim Hanson, and pits him against the Mexican Cartel for “The Marksman.” Set against an immigration backdrop that incorporates themes of family and honor, the film delivers plenty of thrills and heart as Hanson is tasked with delivering an 11-year-old migrant named Miguel (Jacob Perez) to his family in Chicago before the gangsters catch up.
I’m still waiting for the Liam Neeson video game that begins with a random bad guy generator. Hit the X on your controller to find out if our hero battles mobsters, kidnappers, assassins, wolves, crooked FBI agents, terrorists, the Sith, or of course, zombies. Until then, we’ll just have to keep going to the cinema to watch the Irish actor dispense justice as only he can.
In last year’s “Honest Thief” our star played an ex-Marine and former bank robber whose skills helped him take down crooked cops. In “The Marksman,” once again, Neeson plays an ex-Marine whose training helps him stay one step ahead of the cartel in a story that begins along the Arizona-Mexico border.
Ever since Jim Hanson (Neeson) lost his wife to cancer, the widower leads a life of solitude on his isolated ranch located along the border. The medical bills emptied his bank account and since he’s six months behind on his mortgage, eviction is right around the corner.
The film opens as Hanson uses the sharpshooting skills he learned in the military to take out a wolf that’s been killing the cattle on his ranch. Soon thereafter, another predator shows up at his doorstep, a member of the bank indicating their intent to foreclose in 90 days unless he can bring his account up to date. It doesn’t matter that the former bank manager had worked out an arrangement with Hanson or the fact that his wife is buried on the property. He’s informed they will evict and if anyone makes a bid on the property during his deferment, the bank will sell. Better add bank manager to the random bad guy generator.
When Hanson spots a group of migrants on his property, he calls the Border Patrol, but before they arrive, he encounters Rosa (Teresa Ruiz) and her 11-year-old son Miguel (Jacob Perez) who have managed to cross over to the U.S. on their way to Chicago to stay with relatives. Hot on their heels are members of the Mexican cartel led by ruthless baddie Mauricio, played by Juan Pablo Raba from the Netflix series “Narcos.”
A shootout between the gangsters and Hanson results in Rosa’s death, but before she passes away, she asks Hanson to deliver Miguel to his family in Chicago, giving him the address and a bag full of money. As it turns out, the cash was given to Rosa by her brother who stole it from the cartel. The easiest thing for Hanson to do is turn Miguel over to Customs, which will return the boy to his family in Mexico, but the money would solve Hanson’s problem with the bank and so he decides to load up his Chevy pickup and deliver Miguel to the Windy City.
“The Marksman” becomes a road trip film where Neeson’s character begins to bond with the boy despite their differences and language barrier. Hanson begins to shed his hardened exterior as he realizes it’s not about the money. Perez, who’s only been acting for a short while, puts in a solid and natural performance.
As Hanson and Miguel travel the highways they are being pursued by Mauricio and his henchman taking out anyone who crosses their path along the way. It’s no longer about the cartel’s money, Mauricio was to avenge his brother who was killed by Hanson during their skirmish at the border that resulted in Rosa’s death.
The cast also includes Katheryn Winnick from The History Channel series “The Vikings” as Hanson’s estranged daughter Sarah who heads the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol station near his ranch. She wants her father to hand over the boy so they can return him to Mexico, but Hanson realizes that if he does that the cartel will surely kill Miguel.
Donning a cowboy hat and looking thin and frail, Neeson puts in another fine performance as the heroic protagonist thrust into a situation he wasn’t looking for. There are plenty of shootouts, car chases and twists to keep you engaged plus an underlying theme of family, which adds heartfelt emotion into the story that feels like a modern-day “True Grit.”
Opens January 15 in theaters.