Review: The Marksman (2021)
We generally seek out the highest-quality entertainment for review here at Cineluxe, meaning most reviews feature either 4K HDR video or a Dolby TrueHD Atmos soundtrack (preferably both!). However, a real dearth of both catalog and new releases lately has meant we’ve had to cast a slightly wider net for interesting content worth considering. Scanning the New Releases section at Kaleidescape’s store, I stumbled across Liam Neeson’s latest film, The Marksman. Released to cinemas in January, The Marksman had a run on PVOD before becoming available for sale in Blu-ray quality with a 5.1-channel DTS HD-Master soundtrack.
Since showcasing his “particular set of skills . . . acquired over a very long career . . . that make [him] a nightmare for people like you” in 2008’s Taken, Neeson’s career has had an incredible resurgence as the everyman who is suddenly thrust into extraordinary circumstances, forced to fight, flee, or chase some group of baddies in order to right some wrong and get his
life back. From the Taken trilogy, Non-Stop, Run All Night, The Commuter, Cold Pursuit, Honest Thief, and more, Neeson has found a niche playing a certain type of action character people enjoy watching.
I’ll admit I’m a fan of his films and acting. For me, they are the cinematic equivalent of comfort food. You don’t go into a restaurant and order the Mac and Cheese and expect some gastronomic experience. You get it because it is familiar and satisfying. Sure, there are shades of good and even great amongst different Macs, but ultimately it is all kind of the same animal. Likewise, I don’t go into a Neeson film expecting to be wowed by a complex plot or to experience some reinvention of the action genre. I’m looking to see Neeson thrust into some terrible situation where he is forced to use his wits and particular set of skills (which seem to be pretty consistent across his films and characters) to save the day.
THE MARKSMAN AT A GLANCE
Liam Neeson is once again the everyman tangling with a bunch of bad guys in this surprisingly low-key action flick.
The Blu-ray-quality HD video is acceptable but not exceptional, although many of the closeups look quite good, with plenty of detail.
The DTS HD-Master 5.1 soundtrack serves up dialogue clearly and never seems strained, but the gunfire isn’t as dynamic as it should be.
The movie opens with US Marine Vet Jim Hanson (Neeson) living a solitary life in a ranch along the Arizona-Mexico border. As he sees illegals attempting to cross, he alerts the Border Patrol to come and pick them up, ostensibly to save them from dying somewhere on his land. One day, he encounters a woman named Rosa (Teresa Ruiz) and her son Miguel (Jacob Perez), who are fleeing Mexico to escape the Cartel. After the Cartel threatens Hanson to hand them over, in classic Neeson style he informs them, “I don’t scare easy” while menacingly holding a hunting rifle. A gunfight ensues where Rosa is mortally wounded, and the brother of Cartel leader Mauricio (Juan Pablo Raba) brother is also killed. Before the Border Patrol arrives to take Miguel into custody, Rosa hands Hanson a note with an address and begs him to take Miguel to her family in Chicago.
The Marksman then becomes a road-chase film as Hanson and Miguel jump in a pickup truck and make the journey up to Chicago, with the Cartel following their every move through tracking Hanson’s credit-card purchases and a network of lookouts. With the Cartel seemingly always just a step behind them wherever they go, Hanson and Miguel begin to form a relationship as they make their way to Chicago mile by mile. There is some depth to Hanson’s character as he recently lost his wife to cancer, is coping with a drinking problem, and is in jeopardy of losing his ranch to the bank, and seemingly has nothing left but his responsibility for Miguel.
For an action movie, there isn’t quite as much action as you might expect or hope. There is the initial shootout at the border, followed by a couple of skirmishes and several near-misses as you lead up to the finale, which offers a tense and exciting conclusion.
As mentioned, don’t go into this film expecting too much. I felt nearly everything was heavily telegraphed or foreshadowed in some way, like, “Uh, yep, he’s showing us that knife/bullet damage/move for some reason that will come up later.” About the only thing that didn’t happen as I expected was a scene where Neeson notices a large pitchfork, where I immediately thought, “Well, someone is gonna fall and die on that.”
There’s also some obvious social commentary about the problems at the border, with immigration, and corruption, but the film (fortunately) doesn’t beat you over the head with it. Remember, Neeson’s role is to solve his character’s current dilemma, not that of society.
The video quality was certainly acceptable even though “only” Blu-ray quality. (Remember when we thought LaserDisc and then DVD was the greatest thing ever? And now we grouse about just having 1080p . . .) The film has a pretty drab and earthy color palette to go with Hanson’s drab life, with the sky either overcast or having that faded blue of worn jeans. There
are also lots of scenes out in the desert, on the open road, and in the interior of Hanson’s pickup that really aren’t too visually exciting.
Many closeups actually look quite good, with plenty of detail. You can easily pick out the fine texture in Hanson’s hat and see all the whiskers, creases, and lines in his face. Also, long outdoor shots in the bright Arizona sun showing the vast open land look very natural.
I did notice a couple instances of video jaggies and line twitter in some of the car grilles or the teeth in the zipper of a jacket, and a bit of noise in some low-light scenes—things that certainly aren’t often present in 4K video. Also, the shots of bushes, trees, and grasses lacked a lot of detail and resolution, turning these items into smudges or non-distinct green blobs. None of these things really distracted from the film (unlike one moment in the opening shootout where one of the Cartel members is holding a gun whose barrel is clearly smashed totally flat), but were worth noting for picture-quality’s sake.
I don’t have much to say about The Marksman’s audio mix short of that it serves up dialogue clearly and never seemed strained. DTS mixes can sometimes be overly “hot,” making dialogue seem out of balance, but that definitely wasn’t the
case here. In fact, I thought that much of the gunfire lacked dynamics up until the end. When you fire off a hunting rifle, I want the crack of the shot to make me jump in my seat, and that definitely wasn’t the case. Also, while there was some surround activity, it was mainly used for atmospheric sounds like car and road noise, wind, birds, and was really not very dynamic.
While not a bullseye, if you’re looking for a movie to enjoy in your home theater where you can just sit back and watch the story unfold with the understanding that the story is going to turn out pretty much exactly as you expect, then The Marksman mostly hits the target. My wife’s summary pretty much nailed it with, “I enjoyed that more than I thought I would.”
Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at @SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.