Regular readers will know that I’m an unapologetic fan of the cinematic canon of Liam Neeson. Neeson has had the most improbable of careers; rising to prominence through a roles in series of prestige 80’s films (Excalibur, The Mission, erm, The Delta Force?). Neeson’s charm and burly physique made him a casting director’s dream, allowing him to play priests (Lamb) or superheroes (Darkman) before his iconic role in Schindler’s List. And that’s ignoring his role in the popular Star Wars and Narnia franchises. But in 2008, Neeson’s career went in a different direction with Taken, an unassuming, straight-up revenge flick that made him a brand, and led to starring roles as an action man. Action cinema is a rare thing in 2021, and yet Neeson’s sensitivity has made many a shopworn premise sing, and so it proves again with The Marksman.
Writer and director Robert Lorenz has been working with Clint Eastwood for the last couple of decades, and The Marksman feels like a project that would have suited the star, if perhaps too similar to Cry Macho and The Mule; we’re talking a retired ex-Marine, one last personal job that requires leaving his Arizona homestead, and a Shane-lite mentoring of a younger person a la Grand Torino. But Neeson’s career and on-screen persona are every bit as iconic as Eastwood’s, and he makes the role of Vietnam vet Jim Hanson his own. The Marksman also benefits from a reasonably hot take on the ongoing Mexican border issues, and even if they really just provide a pretext for some satisfying action scenes, a sense of the humanitarian cost is included in the narrative.
We’ve been watching big men with big guns and instant justice for decades; Neeson brings something different to each role he plays, and outside of the regrettable Taken sequels, never plays the same role the same way. Henson is a frustrated man, resentful of government intransigence that threatens to take his home away after paying the medical bills to pay for his late wife’s cancer treatment. So the bases are already loaded in terms of sentiment, even before Henson promises a dying mother who has just crawled through the border wall that he’ll take care of her son and transport him to Chicago. That journey is as familiar as it is in Eastwood films like The Gauntlet; there’s even a clip of Eastwood’s Hang ‘Em High spotted on television so we know exactly what kind of film we’re watching; spare, tough, laconic.
The Marksman, like many of Liam Neeson’s best action films, walks a careful line; in boiling down a story to simple, granular elements, it avoids taking political sides. This is a story of an older man trying to protect a young boy from a world he sees as losing its values; while some will argue that there’s nothing new here, it’s a classic story, well told and acted, and perfect for when the symbolic simplicities of cinema are required to offer us respite from the daily grind.
Thanks to Universal for blu-ray access to this title, which will be widely available to stream for the first time in the US on Hulu October 23.
US audiences can own The Marksman now on Digital, 5/11 on DVD & Blu-ray: https://www.uphe.com/movies/the-marksman