The Marksman

★★★1/2

Co-writer/director Robert Lorenz should’ve known he was on the right track because his latest film shares a title with a Wesley Snipes direct-to-video offering from 2005. “The Marksman” (now playing in theaters) is the latest in a long string of Liam Neeson action flicks spurred from 2009’s “Taken” … except it’s not.

Don’t let the advertisements and title fool you – “The Marksman” is far more of a drama with action accents as opposed to the other way around. Chicago native Lorenz has spent the majority of his career assistant directing and producing most of Clint Eastwood’s output from the past 25 years. (This after having served as second assistant director on the Vanilla Ice classic “Cool as Ice” – “Drop that zero and get with the hero!”) His sole directorial effort prior to this was the latter day Eastwood baseball vehicle “Trouble with the Curve.” Unsurprisingly, “The Marksman” feels more like an Eastwood entry from 20 to 25 years ago as opposed to a modern day Neeson action epic (Eastwood even cameos via a fuzzy motel TV showing 1968’s “Hang ‘Em High”).

Neeson stars as Jim Hanson, a Marine veteran and rancher on the Arizona/Mexico border who lost his wife to cancer a year prior and is on the precipice of foreclosure. He often encounters illegals crossing the border onto his property. He’ll offer them water if they need it and then promptly call the Immigration and Naturalization Service to report them, which prompts visits from his Border Patrol officer stepdaughter Sarah (Katheryn Winnick).

One day Jim runs across Rosa (Teresa Ruiz of “Narcos: Mexico”) and her son Miguel (Jacob Perez) who are frantically trying to escape into the United States through an opening in the fence from an attacking cartel faction fronted by Mauricio (Juan Pablo Raba, a veteran of OG “Narcos”). Rosa and Miguel are fleeing since Miguel’s Uncle Carlos (Alfredo Quiroz) stole a substantial amount of money from the cartel and the outfit wants to make an example out of the entire family.

Jim intercedes on Rosa and Miguel’s behalf. Shots are fired by both sides. Jim shoots and kills Mauricio’s brother. Rosa is also struck and ultimately succumbs to her wound, but not before she gives Jim a backpack full of money and pleads with him to transport Miguel to Chicago where they have family. Jim waffles for a bit, but ultimately decides taking Miguel to Chicago is in the boy’s best interest and if he can profit in the process, all the better. The duo hit the road where they’ll have to evade Sarah and other authorities as well as Mauricio and his men.

There’s a lot to like about “The Marksman” despite much of it being pretty pat. Neeson is a pro and could play this role in his sleep, Perez is a cute kid for whom the audience can easily root and they have a natural, easy chemistry. While there isn’t much action, what’s here is serviceable and some of it’s even jolting. The enterprise as a whole is sadder than I expected it to be (there’s that Eastwood influence again!), but the gloom lends the proceedings gravitas. You likely already know if this is for you or not. If you dig Neeson’s action output or Eastwood’s overall oeuvre this will likely be in your wheelhouse. If nothing else, it continues the big screen renaissance of Pop-Tarts after “Wonder Woman 1984.”

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