*. Clint Eastwood was just too old this time, though he shows up in a motel room where Hang ‘Em High is playing on late-night TV. So Clint’s more-than-capable replacement Liam Neeson is pressed into duty here as Jim Hanson, a decorated Marine Corps vet who served two tours in ‘Nam but is now a down-on-his luck homesteader. Jim has just lost his wife, whose medical bills busted him, and now the bank is foreclosing on his farm. All he has left is his faithful dog. And a rifle with a sniper scope.
*. Jim lives on the Mexican border, and one day he just happens to be driving by as a woman and her little boy are making an illegal crossing, pursued by a bunch of cartel hoodlums led by a scary bald guy. Mama is killed, bequeathing her son (and a bag of loot) to Jim to take care of. So the two (Jim and the boy, Miguel) are off on a road trip to Chicago, with the bad guys in hot pursuit.
*. Familiar territory then. You may be remined of Rambo: Last Blood, which had a similar grizzled-vet/rancher figure fighting the cartels. Stallone’s movie even had the head bad guy looking to avenge his brother (as here), and climaxed with a fight in a barn (as here). Otherwise, you have Neeson as the Mexican boy’s white saviour. Then they stop into a church for a special service by a Black holy man just to get the racial stereotypes all checked.
*. Jim and Miguel are the odd couple who start out mistrusting each other but then form an unlikely bond. There is a hiccup in their relationship that comes just when you’d likely time it, but they end up coming together stronger than ever. There’s a scene where Jim teaches Miguel how to fire a pistol and you say to yourself “I bet that’s going to come in handy later.” There’s a scene where Jim has to buy some more guns and doesn’t have time to wait for one of those durn gubmint background checks. No problem. The store owner has him covered with dialogue that electrically leaps off the screen: “‘Nam?” “Two tours.” “I had a brother over there. He never made it back.” “Sorry to hear that. We lost some good men.” You know what? Just forget about the background check. God speed, devil dog.
*. Jim is the archetype of the lone hero. This is a very popular figure in America, where distrust of the government is a national religion. Of course the authorities here are incompetent, with all their red tape and background checks. The cartel can easily track Jim by way of his credit card purchases but the Feds can’t, and have no idea where he is or where he’s going. And don’t you just hate it when you call 911 and explain how “There’s a robbery in progress . . . there’s at least three men with guns” and the dispatcher asks “Can you describe these men?” What? You want me to ask them their names too?
*. And it gets worse. The authorities aren’t just incompetent, they’re complicit. Border guards are on the take. Local cops are on the take. You can’t even trust Immigration not to hand Miguel over to the cartel. So forget about help from anyone. If you want something done right you’re going to have to do it yourself. Luckily Jim is a man with a certain set of skills . . .
*. Even given the formulas that such a genre flick has to work with, The Marksman manages to be hokey in an extreme way. At one point Jim and Miguel even burn the bag of money for no reason I can see other than to underline that they’re pure. And Jim giving the kid his medal at the end? Oh, please.
*. There’s nothing to be excited about here. The script would have been hackneyed in a movie made thirty or forty years ago. Even the action scenes are dull. Neeson’s presence is the only light in the dark, and this time out I’m afraid it’s not up to the job. I guess he’s turning into Clint Eastwood at this point in his career, which is at least a comfortable and well-paying retirement. Expecting anything special on screen at this point will likely only lead to further disappointment.