Liam Neeson has become a reliable mainstay of the January season, where studios typically dump films they aren't too excited about. He has crafted a persona as a man with a very special set of skills often reluctantly thrust into using said skills. The Marksman joins Honest Thief, Taken, and The Commuter in his long string of formulaic action films.
The Markman does add something new, a healthy dose of Clint Eastwood. The film leans into a slower, more emotional vibe as Neeson protects a young boy from cartel thugs. The boy, Miguel (Jacob Perez) flees Mexico with his mother, trying to evade capture by the Cartel after taking their money. Neeson plays rancher Jim Hanson who gets involved after Miguel's mother is killed on his Arizona property.
Jim would normally turn over the boy to the authorities but feels a tug at his heartstrings and decides to take the boy to his relatives in Chicago, all the while being chased by baddies. We learn that Jim's life isn't going well as the bank wants to foreclose on his ranch and his wife died recently of cancer. Miguel is a chance for him to try to put his life back together. Along the way, the two bond.
Neeson and Perez have solid chemistry but that is about the only unique thing The Marksman presents. The on-the-run plot is routine, nothing we haven't seen several times before. Juan Pablo Raba plays Mauricio, the Cartel's top enforcer and while he certainly has a menacing presence, the character is a cookie-cutter villain. Director Robert Lorenz stages a few thrills but lacks the skill of his colleague Eastwood to make the film anything of note.
The issue is largely with the corny dialogue. Neeson sputters about hating cellphones and how tasty a Chicago dog is. These exchanges are silly at best. We get some information that Jim was a war vet and thus knows how to kill but it never pays off in a satisfying way. The climax of the film signals early what will happen and the final standoff doesn't do anything new. I appreciate the film trying to have a heart but it sacrifices good 'ol ass-kicking by Neeson in the process.