THE MARKSMAN (2021)

January 14, 2021

 Greetings again from the darkness. Liam Neeson’s particular set of skills, and his grumpy face, seem to show up on screen most every January. If there is a surprise to this year’s entry, it’s that the annual Liam action movie is not directed by Jaume Collet-Sera, as were THE COMMUTER (2018), RUN ALL NIGHT (2015), NON-STOP (2014), and UNKNOWN (2011). Mr. Collet-Sera has apparently traded Liam in for The Rock as his go-to action star. Instead, it’s director Robert Lorenz (TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE, 2012) who co-wrote the script with two other first time screenwriters, Chris Charles and Danny Kravitz. As with most (not all) of Mr. Neeson’s aging-action-hero films, this one is both watchable and forgettable.

Jim Hanson (Neeson) is a struggling Arizona cattle rancher. He’s also a flag-flying former Marine, who carries a walkie-talkie so he can immediately inform the Border Patrol whenever he spots “IAs” (illegal aliens) crossing his land. Jim is a shell of his former self ever since his beloved wife passed away. He spread her ashes on the hill next to his rundown home … a home that sits on land in the final stages of bank foreclosure. Her daughter Sarah (Katheryn Winnick, “Vikings”) is part of the Border Patrol and periodically keeps tabs on Jim.

Although he never seems to care much for those crossing the border, Jim’s quick to offer a drink to anyone stranded and injured, even as he calls the Border Patrol. A young boy and his pleading mother are no different until a carload of cartel boys show up. The subsequent shootout leaves a couple of people dead and ignites a cross-country cat-and-mouse chase. A previous scene from Mexico taught us that the mother, Rosa (Teresa Ruiz), and her son, Miguel (Jacob Perez), were sent on the run thanks to her brother’s crossing of the cartel. Mauricio (Juan Pablo Raba, THE 33, 2015) is the intimidating cartel soldier sent to kill the mother and son.

The story covers Monday through Saturday, in what would be considered a stressful week for just about anyone. Jim had promised Miquel’s mother that he would take the boy to her cousin’s home in Chicago, and being the good soldier, he is committed to fulfilling his duty. Along the way, the grizzled old man and the angry young boy bond while driving in Jim’s bullet-riddled pickup truck. Hot dogs and hamburgers play a role, but mostly a late confrontation in a barn attempts to add some character development to a story that, to this point, had very little.

Filmmaker Lorenz has a history with Clint Eastwood, and offers up a respectful nod to his mentor by including a grainy scene from HANG ‘EM HIGH on a motel television. There is surprisingly little political commentary included, which actually adds to the slowness and dryness of the material. Liam Neeson is now 68 years old, and he has developed a nice little niche for himself with these action movies that are interesting enough to burn a couple of hours for viewers.

Coming to theaters January 15, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER

 


THE 33 (2015)

November 12, 2015

the 33 Greetings again from the darkness. How do you structure a film based on a true story that lasted 69 days, occurred 5 years ago, and was followed live on TV by half of the global population? Director Patricia Riggen (Girl in Progress, 2012) delivers a film designed to tug on heartstrings, and is based on the book “Deep Down Dark” from Hector Tobar, as well as interviews with the key players.

In 2010, the San Jose copper/gold mine collapsed trapping 33 Chilean miners more than 2300 feet under tons of rubble and an unstable rock that dwarfed the Empire State Building. Through some pretty solid special effects, we are there for the collapse. It’s this segment and the immediate reactions from the miners that provide the film’s best segment. We feel the miner’s sense of panic and doom as they begin to come to grips with their plight.

The film rotates between three struggles: the isolation of the miners struggling to survive, the tent city populated by their families struggling to maintain hope, and the Chilean government struggling with the politics and public relations of a rescue mission. From a character standpoint, each of these three segments is given a face. Antonio Banderas as Mario becomes the focal point of the miners. He searches for an escape route, takes charge of the (very limited) food rations, and acts as referee and light of hope in an extremely volatile situation. Juliette Binoche (yes the French actress) is Maria, the sister of one of the trapped miners and the most assertive of those pushing the government to attempt a rescue. Rodrigo Santoro plays Laurence Goldborne, Chile’s Minister of Mining, and the one who pushes the government to move forward with the costly rescue mission.

Other key characters include Bob Gunton as Chile’s President Pinera, Lou Diamond Phillips as “Don Lucho”, the safety inspector, Gabriel Byrne as the chief engineer, James Brolin as Jeff Hart (leading the U.S. drilling team), Naomi Scott as Mario’s wife, and three of the other miners: Oscar Nunez, Mario Casas, and Juan Pablo Raba.

The most bizarre segment comes courtesy of miner hallucinations. It’s a fantasy-infused Last Supper sequence that plays out to the sounds of a Bellini opera, while the food and drink flow and the family members join in the joy. It’s not difficult to imagine the brain taking these poor gentlemen to such places of mental torture.

As if the approach is to make the most viewer-friendly buried miner film possible, we aren’t witness to much underground conflict, and the internal bickering within the Chilean government officials is kept to a minimum. We do get to see the media circus that occurred during the ordeal … of course, most of us witnessed it in real time.

Director Riggen has delivered a film that taps into the multitude of emotions for the different groups of people, rather than concentrating on the miserable situation of the miners. It’s a challenge to keep us interested in a true story of which we all know the ending, but most viewers will stay engaged with the characters. It should also be noted that the minimalistic score is some of the last work from the late, great James Horner.

Watch the trailer: