Liam Neeson has made a career (maybe even a second career) out of pursuing justice, with his distinct set of skills: a gravelly voice, a well-timed punch, and a knowledge of various firearms. In The Marksman, he’s Jim Hanson, Vietnam veteran and United States Marine Scout Sniper. He knows what violence costs in terms of soul and mental anguish, having fought a war and having lost his wife to cancer. But when Migel (Joe Perez) ends up in his care on the northern side of the border between Mexico and the United States, he finds himself fighting a new war: against the drug cartel.
The story doesn’t care much about the details surrounding the cartel, or how exactly Migel’s saintly mother got tied up with the drug dealers who pursue the odd couple that Hanson and Migel make. Yes, there’s Hanson’s amicable stepdaughter (Kathryn Winnick) and a lovable dog as periodic side effects to the road trip Hanson takes Mauricio on (aimed at uniting him with some extended family in Chicago). But this is ultimately about the bigger picture about the cartel’s easy access to the U.S. and even more so, about how Hanson impacts a young impressionable boy.
Neeson is always road weary it seems, a bit behind the eight ball but having sufficient energy to knock heads and shoot the lights out from distance. Here though, there is a bit more of a social commentary: corrupt border officials allow the cartel agents into the U.S. knowingly; other Americans are paid off to look the other way. Add in Migel’s mother’s efforts to afford her son a better life, and the way that Neeson’s Hanson takes ownership of the now orphaned boy. There’s some duty and honor at stake here, and an acknowledgment that the world isn’t right. (Hansen might not be religious, but he’s okay with a proper Catholic send off for Miguel’s mama.) We’ve seen Neeson’s characters fight personal wars, but here, he’s battling as the protector of a kid who is not even his own.
In reality, The Marksman is a western, a bang-up of Gran Torino and Hell or High Water (yes, there’s even a bit about the bank having no mercy). It’s crisper, straighter, and more character driven than some of the other pieces – without necessarily veering as drastically into the offbeat as Honest Thief did. All of this might be attributed – and honestly, I didn’t know until afterward, but the film is written, directed, and produced by longtime Clint Eastwood producer (with credits on Gran Turino, Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Flags of Our Fathers, etc.)
Maybe that’s the next arc of Neeson’s career: closeup, character-driven stories that Eastwood doesn’t take. It’s refreshing to see him get less explosive, but dig a bit deeper.
The Marksman is in theatres and on VOD on Friday, April 2nd, 2021.