The plot of a reclusive, old white widower who suddenly develops a conscience to do the opposite of what he would normally do is a familiar one. We have seen a spate of such movies lately with the likes of Clint Eastwood’s “The Mule.”
This is the premise of “The Marksman,” starring Liam Neeson. Neeson plays widower and former Marine Jim Hanson, who owns a soon-to-be-foreclosed ranch in an Arizona border town. Though he regularly reports “IA’s” (illegal aliens) who cross the wired border fence on his ranch, he decides to rescue one of them, a young orphan boy named Miguel (Jacob Perez). He goes as far as breaking Miguel out of border police detention and driving him to his family in Chicago. Of course, it takes the presence of a drug cartel chasing after Miguel and killing Miguel’s mother to bring about a crisis of conscience for Jim.
The presence of white privilege is very evident throughout the movie. When Jim is pulled over by traffic police, he confidently asks why he was stopped, as he was not speeding. Naturally, the only reason the very white Jim is specifically stopped by a cop in the first place is because the cop is in cahoots with the drug cartel and specifically on the lookout for Jim. This, too, is reminiscent of Eastwood in “The Mule,” who is also initially ignored by the police due to his skin color.
The film also seems to highlight, whether intentionally or unintentionally, how easy it is to skip the background check process when buying firearms, especially when the person buying the weapon is white. The gun store owner is willing to take Jim’s good intentions and innocence at face value and even reports the cash gun purchase as “stolen” to let Jim get around the required background check. One has to wonder if this is indicative of real life, where obtaining firearms is easy and simple workarounds are used to break laws such as background checks.
The film is also a reminder of the pervasive influence of the drug cartels and the resultant malfeasance that seems to permeate every level of authority and law enforcement. The cartel is able to leave behind mayhem and murder in its wake without impunity in its ruthless pursuit of the protagonists. Corrupt border officials brazenly clear cartel members through immigation, even when it is quite obvious their passport photos do not match. And in a fictional narrative, apparently there is only one way to fight the cartel, which is stocking up on firearms and having a Western-style shootout in a finale where the former Marine has to emerge victorious.
There is a humorous nod to changing technology when Jim asks for a road map and the service station attendant tells him that everyone now uses Google Maps. But when he finds an actual map on a bottom shelf, her startled reaction that a map would even physically exist in modern times is sure to bring about a smile. But overall, the plot feels very tired, predictable and little more than a variant of many similar movies seen before. The bonding between two unlikely protagonists, and the reversal of Jim’s beliefs contributes to a hackneyed theme of redemption that only serves to make the film even more cliché.
Redeeming features of the movie are the shots that capture the sweeping vistas and the vastness of the border, as well as the striking images of the border fence and the rugged Arizona landscape. Both Neeson and Perez put up a good show. The film is worth a watch for the star power, if one enjoys this genre of movies, but the movie is by no means a must-see.