As Jim Hanson rides the lower part of his Arizona ranch with his faithful dog, Jackson, he can’t help wonder how the world came to this.
He’s worked hard, paid his taxes, served his country. And yet here he is in the latter part of his life with what little he has being snatched away from him.
His beloved wife got sick from a horrible disease, and that drained away nearly every dime they had. Then she passed, and that drained away everything good left in Jim’s life.
The bankman showed up next, notifying Jim that he had 90 days before his scrub-covered stretch of land along the Mexican border would go into foreclosure.
How did it come to this?
Jim is wrenched out of his revery, though, when he almost hits a pair of illegals climbing through the border fence near the dirt road he’s driving. After slamming on his breaks and giving a call on his radio to the border authorities, he realizes that the pair appear to be a mother and son. And she’s pretty hurt: a nasty cut she got while climbing through the wire fence.
As Jim moves to help, he also spots drug-cartel thugs climbing out of their large black SUV on the other side of the fence. “Sorry, Pancho, these illegals are mine,” Jim calls when one of the thugs demands the return of the woman and her boy.
Then the shooting starts. And Jim, a former marine sharpshooter, returns fire. When it’s all said and done, the woman is shot and bleeding out. She offers Jim money and hands him a blood-soaked scrap of paper with an address in Chicago where the boy’s relatives are. And she begs Jim to promise to bring her son to them.
Of course, that’s insane. He’ll simply hand the boy over to border patrol. They’ll take care of him. But there’s something about the fevered intensity of those cartel goons. And there’s been just enough dirty money exchanging hands and corruption amongst the local authorities, that Jim is pretty sure the boy will be dead or back in the wrong hands very soon.
Even if Jim has lost everything else, he still has the ability and the wherewithal to protect an innocent. That hasn’t yet been stripped away from him.
Besides, he hasn’t been to Chicago in some time.
In spite of his gruff exterior, there’s definitely a goodness to Jim’s action. He wants to do right by this boy, whose name is Miguel. And as the two travel together, they form a mutual understanding and friendship.
Jim also doesn’t want to break the law. But that’s something he feels forced to do to in order to protect Miguel and keep him out of corrupt hands.
Meanwhile, Jim’s stepdaughter, Sarah, is a border patrol agent. And she stretches her authority as much as possible to help protect her father.
Early on, we see a statue of Jesus in a small Mexican town. As she dies, Miguel’s mother gives him her rosary.
Miguel, who was raised in a Catholic family, states that Jim’s dog is in heaven after the animal is shot and killed. Jim, however, makes it plain that he believes there’s “no such thing.”
When Miguel worries that his mother never got a proper funereal, Jim stops at a church and arranges for a small funereal service through a local pastor.
We see a bloody man being tortured while hung up by his wrists under an overpass. The camera also catches a glimpse of a man with bloody feet who was injured while crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.
There are a number of shootouts between cartel thugs and Jim. He uses his sharpshooter skills to shoot various men in the head and chest from a distance. We also see one well-placed shot cause a speeding vehicle to flip and crash—after which, badly bloodied men crawl out of the wreckage. Jim gets shot as well and is stabbed several times in the side while being thumped around by a large man.
Jim also fights with a corrupt cop whom he eventually punches in the face and knocks unconscious. Cartel goons then arrive and execute the fallen policeman with a bullet to the head. A cartel henchman manhandles a young girl at a service station then kills her (offscreen). These criminals burn Jim’s ranch house down.
A man is given a sidearm to “honorably” end his own life. He does so (off-camera). We see a woman and a man both wounded and bleeding out. Jim shoots a wolf that’s attacking a young cow. (The camera examines the gaping bloody wound on the animal.)
A half-dozen s-words are joined by multiple uses each of “a–,” “h—” and “d–n.” God’s and Christ’s names are both misused on four occasions (with God being combined with “d–n” on three of those).
Jim drinks quite heavily on several occasions in a bar and a restaurant, twice getting pass-out drunk. He also carries a flask that he sips from. However, as he starts connecting with Miguel, he purposely bypasses the booze to stay clear-minded.
It’s obvious that the thugs chasing Jim and Miguel are part of a drug cartel. (Though we never see the drugs themselves.)
We see several occasions where U.S. police and border agents break the law because they’ve been paid off with drug money.
Liam Neeson has found himself fitting snuggly into the older-guy-uses-his-seasoned-skills-to-take-on-some-nasty-characters kind of role. You know, the sort of grizzled hero part that both Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood championed in the latter part of their acting careers.
In this case it’s the tale of an aging ex-Marine sharpshooter whose crumbling ranch is facing foreclosure after his beloved wife’s hospital bills nearly wipe him out. He’s a lonely widower who just wants to do the right thing while fearing that the corrupt world around him won’t.
That’s the kind of selfless hero you can root for. And his choices suggest that there’s still something healthy and decent at the American core.
The problem is, while reaching for that goodness, this hero and his story both wade through quite a bit of bloody murders, heavy drinking and foul language. And their final dreary denouement—involving loss, suicide and ill-fated injuries—is none too heartening either.
Even this film’s sacrificial victory, then, plays out as something of a tragic defeat. You can blame it on a weak script or a faltering directorial vision. But The Marksman makes for a rather depressing and cheerless trip to the movies.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.