Liam Neeson tries to do his very best Clint Eastwood Impression in this new ultimate action thriller…

Since the release of the dreadful (yes, dreadful) Taken trilogy, Liam Neeson has been unfortunately typecasted as the star of a slew of unimpressive, paint-by-numbers action films; save for the ones directed  by Jaume Collet-Serra. Those movies at least tried to do something different with Neeson’s grim demeanor and had a compelling pace and gripping action sequences. Now aged 69, Neeson doesn’t seem like he’ll ever break his typecasting curse and stars in his latest dud, The Marksman, in which the filmmakers desperately tries to paint him as the next Clint Eastwood. Problem is, Eastwood had a magnifying presence that would transcend even his worst movies, whereas Neeson continuously mails it in and doesn’t look like he’s having any fun in the filmmaking process. 

The Marksman tells the story of Jim Hanson (Neeson), an ex-Marine corps now doing…god knows what. He has troubles paying down his loans after his wife dies and spends the day reporting illegal crossings from Mexico to the United States to Border Patrol. One day, he encounters a mother and his son, Miguel (Jacob Perez), who are being hunted by the town’s cartel. After a gunfight which results in the death of the mother, Jim must now bring Miguel to his family in Chicago, before the cartel finds and kills him. You get the gist, of course: Jim now acts as “law and order” to Miguel, as he cannot trust the police and Border Patrol, even if his stepdaughter (Katheryn Winnick) works here. 

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The Proverbial Ghost of Clint Eastwood Lingers

If you’ve seen Robert Lorenz’ resume as a film producer, you’d quickly realize that he’s only worked on films either directed by or starring Clint Eastwood. Heck, his last directorial effort was Trouble with the Curve starring none other than Eastwood himself—so it’s only natural that the role of Jim Hanson was likely written for Eastwood. However, the legendary actor is 91 years old and making him look convincing, without a stunt double, during the film’s many action sequences could be a daunting feat.

Throughout the entire film. Neeson exudes Eastwood’s tough-guy charisma, particularly when he confronts the caricatural cartel antagonists, with a slew of lines that seems to be taken straight out of Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy. The similarities are so apparent that they’ll even make the two main characters watch Hang ‘Em High, either a nod to the time Lorenz worked with Eastwood or a reminder of whom Neeson is imitating. Every critic has said it when the film initially released in January, but even if you want to have a more nuanced opinion, you can’t help but think “Eastwood!” when you first see Neeson confronting the cartel. 

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“The Type of Stuff You’d See in Cannon Group films”

Or, even more apparent, when he buys a gun in the film’s most baffling sequence. Neeson/Eastwood operates within his own law, as he’s above the corrupt police and border agents who are planning to take Miguel straight to the cartel. He even says to a corrupt cop the following line “How much are they paying you to betray that badge?”, as if he’s the real arbiter of law, a Charles Bronson-esque vigilante who becomes judge, jury and executioner when the so-called “law” fails him. Back to our main point of topic: Jim needs to buy guns and tells the owner that he cannot wait one day for the background check to pass through, because he’s stuck in a life or death situation. The gun shop owner goes from “I’m sorry, I can’t risk losing my license” to “I’ll report them stolen”, turning a blind eye to whatever Hanson is going to do. 

I don’t know if this sequence was supposed to be a commentary on how easy it is to acquire guns in the United States, in mostly red states, but it’s ridiculous to even think that a gun shop owner could ever do this, trying to make as much money as possible and going above the law to help someone he doesn’t even know! This is the type of stuff you’d usually see in Cannon Group films, where the action star would become the “embodiment of America” and had a plethora of guns and bullets to fight their highly cartoonish villains. 

The Marksman is done in the same vein as these movies—with mindless action permeating the film’s snail’s pace until the predictable finish line. There is something, however, that The Marksman does well in comparison to Cannon films, and that’s constructing a good emotional arc between Hanson and Miguel. Neeson’s performance isn’t as terrible as his last appearance as Bryan Mills in Tak3n, and he’s mostly helped through a charming supporting role by Jacob Perez. They eventually bond and form an extremely palpable chemistry together.

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Hell, they’re the only reason why you’re watching until the end—as the movie is mostly filled with a paint-by-numbers plotline and antagonists with no legitimate development. It doesn’t help that the film’s action sequences are mostly generic gunfights, without an ounce of aesthetic feeling or a director’s personal touch behind them. Mark Patten’s cinematography feels too clean for a movie that supposedly wants to feature a “grim” and “gritty” storyline. Digital cameras lack the grit of film, and, as a result, The Marksman’s action sequences are cheaply constructed and choreographed, with many shots obviously capturing a stunt double for Neeson, who can no longer do one-on-one fights convincingly. 

It’s time for Liam Neeson to retire from action movies. He can spend the rest of his career doing more dramatic roles, which is his real forte, if you’ve seen films like Schindler’s List or Rob Roy—that’s where his real acting skills lie. Action movies only serve as a distraction from Neeson, who was once great, but now only seems to be doing it more for the heavy paycheck. We all have to make ends meet, yes, but films like The Marksman does not fully exalt Neeson’s talent as a star. He’s reduced to imitate Clint Eastwood, whilst walking in his shadow. And guess what? It doesn’t work. There’s only one person that can do Eastwood—and that’s the man himself. Either Neeson continues his action roles with Jaume Collet-Serra or tries to branch off to something else, which would be preferable. 

Bio: Maxance is a 22-year old freelance film and TV critic and a recent film graduate at the Université de Montréal. You can follow his most recent work on twitter @MaxFromQuebec.

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