The plot is a standard issue chase movie, as Jim and Miguel make their way north from Arizona with the vengeful Maurico (Juan Pablo Raba) on their tail, as well as Jim’s stepdaughter, Sarah (Katheryn Winnick), a border patrol officer, begging him to return the boy and seek protection from the authorities. Along the way, man and child bond, forging a relationship beyond the task at hand.
Shot with a shiny sheen that’s almost too crystalline, there isn’t much to set “The Marksman” apart from Neeson’s other thrillers. In fact, it’s one of the blandest of the bunch. It lacks the lean, zippy action and twisty plots of his collaborations with Jaume Collet-Serra (“Non-Stop,” “Run All Night,” “The Commuter”), the darkly comic tone of Hans Petter Molland’s “Cold Pursuit,” and the brutality of the “Taken” trilogy. This is a minor entry in the Neeson canon.
Its politics are muddled at best, relying on a tired stereotype of Mexican drug cartels to serve as an uncomplicated boogeyman, while a patriotic Vietnam vet traffics an asylum-seeking Mexican child across state lines. The film wants to speak to some kind of old school, lone-ranger American hero type (as portrayed by a man from Northern Ireland), but it’s too vague, shying away from any controversy, to say much at all.
Neeson remains eminently watchable, and as this tragic figure, a man who finds himself alone on the range after all these years, he conveys the sorrow Jim carries with a palpable immediacy. Although “The Marksman” never finds its target (if it has one), Neeson’s still got it.