“The Marksman”

“The Marksman” has the unfortunate timing to come out less than a month after “News of the World.” Although the two movies are set over 150 years apart, the plots are very similar: a crusty adult has to go on a long, dangerous journey with a child they don’t know, to the point where they don’t even speak the same language. But while “News of the World” was able to get a plum Christmas release date, thanks in no small part to the star power of Tom Hanks, “The Marksman” feels like it was always destined for the doldrums of January, even with Liam Neeson attached.

Neeson plays Jim Hanson, a former Marine, recent widower, and current rancher on an Arizona farm on the U.S./Mexico border. He spends his days fretting how he’s going to pay back a bank loan and occasionally reporting illegal immigrants to his agent stepdaughter (Kathryn Winnick). One day he spots mother Rosa (Teresa Ruiz) and son Miguel (Joe Perez) making a feeble attempt to flee into the country. Not far behind them is a group of cartel assassins, hunting them down after Rosa’s brother betrayed their boss. In one of the film’s disappointingly few action sequences, Hanson engages the men in a shootout and kills the brother of the leader (Juan Pablo Raba). But Rosa is mortally wounded (not a spoiler, since this is established in the trailer), and she makes Hanson promise to take Miguel to relatives in Chicago before she dies.

Hanson has to first rescue Miguel from Border Patrol, even though the ungrateful Miguel says that Hanson is indirectly responsible for his mother’s death. I say that without Hanson, the cartel guys would have caught up with them about ten seconds later and killed them both, but there’s hard feelings anyway. Hanson and Miguel go on the run with the cartel members not far behind them. The cartel guys are ruthless, burning down Hanson’s house and killing people who make even fleeting contact with them (one poor girl looks like she’s too young to drive, let alone work at a gas station).

Hanson hates having to shepherd Miguel at first, but eventually the two bond. This movie plays the stupid angle where Miguel spends about half the movie pretending he doesn’t speak English, but then it turns out that he does, he just wanted to mess with Hanson. Hanson teaches Miguel how to shoot, having him practice on cans in a scene that will no doubt come into play during the climax. Miguel has a backpack full of cartel money, which briefly comes between the two… until it doesn’t. This scene elicited audible groans from everyone in the theater, which I’m proud to say I kicked off. The climax takes place in a barn, an odd choice of venue considering the movie has spent so much time building up Chicago that I was expecting something a little more urban. And the actual ending is ridiculous, with a fatal twist that could be undone by simply changing the order of certain events.

The best thing I can say about “The Marksman” is that Neeson and Perez have pretty good chemistry. It’s not particularly memorable, but it’s cute how they share affection for Hanson’s dog (the dog, by the way, is memorable). But the movie is not done any favors by its script or action. It’s not even titled very well, Hanson’s marksmanship is barely mentioned and I kept having to remind myself what the movie was even called. I’d say this movie is a disappointment as a Liam Neeson action vehicle, but there’s so little action that it barely qualifies as one, it’s more of a road trip movie with action sequences at the beginning and end. By all means see this movie to support your local theater, but only after you’ve seen better movies like “News of the World.”

Grade: C-

“The Marksman” is playing in select theaters, check local listings for showtimes. The film is rated PG-13 for violence, some bloody images and brief strong language. Its running time is 108 minutes.

“Promising Young Woman”

I had particularly high hopes for “Promising Young Woman.” When I saw the first trailer in early 2020, my instincts told me that this was going to be one of the most exciting, unpredictable, maybe even terrifying films of the year. I made it a point to see the film on my 35th birthday because something told me it was going to be a monumental film and I wanted to connect it to a monumental day. The good news is that it is indeed one of the exciting, unpredictable, terrifying films of 2020. The bad news is that with 2020, anything halfway competent is going to be one of the most exciting, unpredictable, terrifying films of the year. It doesn’t mean that this film could hold its own against a proper holiday movie slate.

Carey Mulligan stars as Cassie. Once a Promising Young Woman with a bright future ahead of her in medical school, Cassie dropped out along with her friend Nina when the latter was raped and later died. Now Cassie lives with her parents (Jennifer Coolidge and Clancy Brown) and her meager career consists of working at a coffee shop run by Gail (Laverne Cox). Her one pleasure in life comes from going to high-end bars, pretending to be drunk, letting rich sleazebags take her home, revealing she’s really sober, and then… pretty much letting them off the hook. The trailers made it look like she was really going to punish these predators, but to my disappointment, she stops short of performing any truly radical acts.

One guy in Cassie’s life that she doesn’t seduce at a bar is old classmate Ryan (Bo Burnham). He’s now a charmingly goofy pediatrician with a heart of gold and an eye for her. The two’s flirting is arguably the high point of the movie, capped off by a drugstore musical number set to an okay pop song by an atrocious pop star. Is Cassie open to a relationship given the depravity she associates with men? And is Ryan as wholesome as he pretends to be? After all, he was in medical school with both Nina and Nina’s attacker and they all got drunk at the same parties.

An opportunity presents itself for Cassie to avenge Nina once and for all, and after that maybe she can settle down with Ryan. But first she has to get revenge on a complicit classmate (Alison Brie), the school’s unsympathetic dean (Connie Britton), and an amoral lawyer (Alfred Molina, in a scene with distracting overacting from both him and Mulligan). Then she can move onto the attacker (Chris Lowell) at his bachelor party. She has no intention of letting him off with a good talking-to, but her master plan involves so many things happening a certain way that it can’t be chalked up to anything more than dumb planning and dumber luck. The inexplicably accurate forethought is a huge flaw in the script by writer-director Emerald Fennell, along with the decision to have the Brie character turn over a piece of evidence that is way too convenient for a story this supposedly grounded.

I’m writing this article a few days after the announcement of the year’s Golden Globe nominations. “Promising Young Woman” is nominated for Best Picture – Drama, Best Actress in a Drama, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. I haven’t seen many of the other nominees, so I can’t say where this film belongs in relation to them, but I hope that at least one of them is better so we don’t have to settle for this movie as the best of the year. I am by no means saying that this passionately-made movie isn’t among the best of the year. What I’m saying is that if it is, the year settled for very little. Which, given the year, is not surprising.

Grade: B-

“Promising Young Woman” is playing in theaters and is also available On Demand, likely through your local cable provider. The film is rated R for strong violence including sexual assault, language throughout, some sexual material and drug use. Its running time is 113 minutes.

“The Little Things”

We all know that 2020 was a weird time for the movie business (as well as every other business), but the weirdness started back in January, before everything went haywire. “Bad Boys for Life” made $206 million at the domestic box office and wound up as the biggest theatrical release of the year. Obviously that achievement wouldn’t have held up to stronger competition had more blockbusters been allowed to open, but it still counts. And even if it didn’t sit atop the year-end list, it still would have made more money than any film to ever open in January by nearly $60 million (movies like “American Sniper” that technically opened in December and then went wide in January don’t count). The point is that January is traditionally not the time for juggernauts like “Bad Boys for Life.” It’s a time for certain flops to become lesser flops because they are able to be the big new release on weekends no other studio wanted – for good reason. In that way, 2021 is a return to tradition. We’ve only had two new movies this year: “The Marksman,” from last week, and “The Little Things” from this week. Both films’ biggest selling point is nothing more than a dearth of competition. The studios weren’t going to make much money with these movies anyway, might as well capitalize on that advantage.

“The Little Things” is a detective movie starring Denzel Washington and Rami Malek. As with “The Marksman” and Liam Neeson, the studio just wants to sell you on its stars without doing much to sell the film’s style or story. Denzel plays Joe “Deke” Deacon, a veteran cop visiting his old haunt of Los Angeles in 1990. Malek is Jimmy Baxter, a young hotshot detective on the hunt for a serial killer. Deke can’t help but compare Jimmy’s current charge with an unsolved case he worked five years ago – a murderer with… let’s say two or three victims. Deke went crazy from the case, suffering a heart attack and alienating the rest of the department. He agrees to help Jimmy with the new case, but warns him not to become obsessed like he did. Jimmy acts like he’s too cool to behave like that, but secretly he’s falling into the same trap.

A break in the case revolves around Albert Sparma (Jared Leto), a creepy repairman with a connection to one of the victims. He taunts Deke and Jimmy in the way that only the incredibly guilty can when they’re sure they can’t be caught. But he’s falsely confessed to a murder before, and if he wasn’t the killer then, it stands to reason that he’s not the killer now. Even if he’s not, he’s guilty of obstruction, and I think he deserves anything bad that happens to him, but the law says he has rights. Deke and Jimmy bend the rules collecting evidence and interrogating Sparma, who gets a sick pleasure out of seeing the two get flustered over him. Then one of them gets really sloppy, making a decision way too dumb for a professional detective, and things go south.

The first three quarters of “The Little Things” are boring and the last act relies on staggering stupidity. The cast does what they can with this material, but not even three Oscar-winning actors can elevate this drivel beyond a C-. Then again, I didn’t see the film under the best of conditions. Due to a scheduling conflict, I had to settle for watching this at home on HBO Max. It certainly saved me time, but it’s just not the same as seeing a movie on the big screen, even one as disposable as this. If you can, try to see this movie in a theater, which sure could use your business right now. Or better yet, see a better movie like “News of the World” or “Promising Young Woman.”

Grade: C-

“The Little Things” is playing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max. The film is rated R for violent/disturbing images, language and full nudity. Its running time is 127 minutes.


Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.


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