Liam Neeson Is Once Again the Hero in Action-Thriller ‘The Marksman’

Liam Neeson does what he does best in action-thriller “The Marksman,” playing Jim Hanson, a grizzled veteran living on a ranch in Arizona. Because Jim’s property is close to the Mexican border, he often encounters those crossing over, and it is on a seemingly ordinary day that he spots Rosa (Teresa Ruiz), a young mother with her 11-year-old son, Miguel (Jacob Perez). Ignorant to the fact that the pair are escaping a dangerous situation in Mexico (prior scenes reveal that Rosa’s brother was mixed with a dangerous cartel), Jim’s first instinct is to report them to border patrol. However, when a group of dangerous cartel members led by ruthless killer Maurico (Juan Pablo Raba) materialize, Jim, who, no surprise, is rather handy with a gun, must act fast.

Because “The Marksman” was directed by Robert Lorenz, a producer on several of Clint Eastwood’s films, many have assumed that this film was originally meant for the lionized older actor. And while it is not too much of a stretch to imagine Eastwood as Jim –– he’s a tough old widower with economic anxiety who drinks to ease his pain –– the character is also distinctly Neeson. For example, before he goes at it with the cartel, he gives a warning about the special skills he acquired as a Marine, a warning that echoes the one he famously gave to the evil-doers in “Taken.” After a tense shootout ends with Rosa getting mortally wounded, the poor dying woman gets Jim to promise to look after Miguel, leaving him with a bag of cash and an address for some cousins in Chicago.

Despite his personal demons, Jim, a man who many would deem a patriot for his military service, has a clear sense of right and wrong. However, he puts aside law-abiding ways after his conscience gets the best of him for leaving Miguel at a government center. The boy is destined to be deported, and he’s not reassured by the agents’ promises that he will be kept safe, even though one of the agents is his own stepdaughter, Sarah (Katheryn Winnick).

Jim has a special bond with Sarah, who feels a responsibility for him, especially since he cared for her mother while she battled terminal cancer. Winnick recently spoke with Entertainment Voice and revealed to us how the veteran actor went above and beyond for her, teaching her a lesson about supporting co-stars that she has carried over with her to other projects, such as her drama series “Big Sky.” 

“He was just great to work with,” she said. “When we had that phone scene, for example, he came in on his only day off –– being the lead, he’s in everyday –– and he stayed for hours just to read off-camera lines for me, which I thought was a really honorable and inspiring thing to do for another actor… From that day forward, I realized he’s an actor’s actor, and he really wants the best performance [possible] and to get the best performance out of his co-stars.”

Jim hits the road with Miguel, and there’s a thawing period, as the boy is initially angry at Jim. He believes that his mother would have lived if he hadn’t stopped them the first time. He doesn’t even reveal that he knows English until trust is established. As for Jim, he ends up teaching the young man some valuable lessons as if he were his own son or grandson. Miguel also has a thing or two to teach his temporary guardian, as Lorenz and his co-writers, Chris Charles and Danny Kravitz, don’t shy away from digging into the theme of faith.

But “The Marksman” isn’t just another warm and fuzzy story about a lonely adult forming a kinship with a child, as there is a very real threat of danger looming over Jim and Miguel. The cartel is on their tail, and as Jim killed Maurico’s brother in the same shootout that took Rose, this mission is personal for him. It doesn’t help that Jim has underestimated these thugs, who have access to sophisticated technology that allows them to track his credit card transactions. They also do a lot of the typical baddie things, like burn down Jim’s house and bribe cops.

After fleeing with Miguel, Jim stays in contact with Sarah, putting her in an awkward position. “She had to make a choice to choose her family over her work, and I think that comes with just being a woman, naturally,” explained Winnick. “Sometimes you need to make choices that may not necessarily fit the mold for your job, but you’re sacrificing for your family.”

The character of Sarah is not unsimilar to Jenny, Winnick’s character in “Big Sky,” an ex-cop who now does detective work in Montana. Not only are both women strikingly independent, but both also work in the realm of law enforcement in sparsely populated parts of the country. The actress spoke about her television career and her love for playing strong women.

“On a TV series, you definitely have a lot more time to explore that and unravel her strength and vulnerability. Behind any strong character also has to be a strong vulnerable side and a personal drive that makes them strong. It definitely has to come from a sacrifice and a personal journey that is motivated behind the strength. We’re at episode nine, and I do hope that you see more of it as the series goes on. I’m sure you will, with Jenny’s backstory [that explains] where she’s coming from.”

She continued, “As an actor, you sign up for something, and you yourself aren’t privy to all the information right away, just because they haven’t written it yet. Hopefully, that all unfolds as the series goes on. But, even just playing Lagertha for many years on a TV show, [‘Vikings’], and getting a chance to direct as well, I really feel that storytelling is such an opportunity for women to be able to not only get in front of the camera, but to also get behind the camera to have your vision and your voice be heard. That attracts me to great material.”

In the end, “The Marksman” is an improvement from Neeson’s last film, the somewhat silly thriller “Honest Thief.” Sure, elements of the plot are recycled, but it features Neeson as the take-no-prisoners type of hero his fans have loved since “Taken.” The film also has potential to make viewers rethink how they view those who enter the U.S. illegally. 

“Timing-wise, it’s an interesting movie to come out right now, especially with what’s happening politically, and even with Covid and the borders being closed,” said Winnick. “That was something that we didn’t anticipate when we were shooting the movie. It also shows the struggle that a lot of immigrants go through to try to get across the border and how hard it can be, and that they’re officially wanted criminals as soon as they do so, and maybe we need to look at that in a different way and try to create a way to be able to have a very multicultural society and country [that] gives more opportunities to come into the country [legally].”

The Marksman” release Jan. 15 in select cities.