Between 1997 and 2014, Robert Lorenz was Clint Eastwood’s right-hand man. Over time he was gaining more and more responsibilities. After starting alongside him as a second unit director on titles like Absolute power and Midnight in the garden of good and evilHe went on to first serve as an assistant director and then a producer on nearly every movie Eastwood made in the first half of the past decade. That path culminated in the magnificent Life curves (2014), available on HBO Max, one of the few films in which Eastwood acts under another director. In this case, someone from your own school.
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In the days leading up to the premiere of The protector (The Marksman), which can now be seen at Netflix, Lorenz said that while doing Life curves he began to feel that the time had come to start his own path and try his luck for the first time away from his mentor. In those interviews he revealed something else: was very close to being the director of Gran Torino, but Eastwood ended up imposing his desire to take over that movie.
The protector premiered on June 10 in theaters in Argentina and was one of the few releases that accompanied the reopening of theaters after a second pause imposed by the coronavirus. It went unnoticed, as anyone could imagine. It was a shame that he arrived at that moment, far from any perspective of normality. It is one of those films that acquire fullness and full power when we see it in a theater. Not only for its scenarios, extraordinarily used in all its fullness through the wide screen. His characters are so ingrained in the space in which they move that their actions make even more sense when we see them that way.
It is also Lorenz’s second directorial film and the first in his entire career in which he does not share any credit with Eastwood. But that presence is impossible to hide, it seems that it will never completely leave the vicinity of Lorenz. In a moment of the action we see its two protagonists, the experienced Liam Neeson and the unknown Jacob Pérez (a child actor of Latin origin who is just 11 years old) in a hotel room. The TV turned on shows scenes from The Mark of the Gallows (1968), one of the first westerns starring Eastwood in the United States.
Eastwood’s shadow is so strong that it is impossible not to imagine him in the skin of the leading character, a veteran Arizona rancher named Jim Hanson, whose property is very close to the border wall that separates the United States from Mexico, a place of constant transit. for illegal immigration.
Hanson is used to giving notice to border patrols as soon as he observes the movements of one of those long-suffering seekers of the American dream. But he is much more concerned about the debts that he accumulates and that can lead him at any moment to be without his house, on the verge of being foreclosed by a bank. He raises scrawny heads of cattle that do not guarantee a livelihood and is overqualified for other, more rudimentary jobs. As if all that weren’t enough, he is enduring the pain of his wife’s recent death. Only a daughter who is part of the US forces that patrol the border serves as a support and a precarious emotional balance.
Hanson has the familiar face of Liam Neeson, an actor with a great personality, owner of a very powerful cinematographic presence. And, above all, a figure who in the last decade and a half of tireless work (does not stop making films) reinvented himself in the cinema as a figure of action cinema. In almost all the appearances of this last and fruitful stage of his career, the brave Neeson (who exhibits admirable vitality at 69) embodies different variants of a recognizable character: a hero who carries inside him pains from the past and finds in a certain moment the way to demonstrate their values and find renewed meaning to an existence increasingly marked by disenchantment.
One such variant is the hero of The protector, a man who feels beaten by life and almost discarded after having done everything that society expected of him. And another expression of the now classic character of this stage of Neeson’s career is that of that person who for a long time chose to side with evil and now embarks on a path of redemption and repentance without being able to completely abandon that past that still asks of him. accountability.
With these last features we meet again this Thursday with Neeson, but in theaters, as the central figure of another sample of his inexhaustible presence on the screen: Relentless revenge (Honest Thief), written and directed by Mark Williams, co-creator of the hit series Ozark. and also one of the producers of The protector. On Relentless revenge, Neeson is an expert bank robber convinced at one point in his life of the need to repent, pay for his sins and start a new life marked by love. He is a character who moves all the time in an urban environment. His past life and his longing for the future do not leave the concrete geography of Boston.
Instead, Neeson’s world in The protector is that of infinite distances and scenarios dominated by nature. Jim Hanson lives far from the world in a rural property, he does not imagine his existence in another place and when fate places him in the need to help a Mexican boy who tries to escape from a drug cartel by crossing the border, that incident will take him towards a journey always dominated by open spaces.
The protector It has all the characteristics, and above all the identity, of a contemporary western. Its protagonist is a man from the West who lives in a land without law and feels that the trust in the institutions to do justice and ensure that the weakest can be protected is not enough. He is helped by an unerring aim (the literal translation of “marksman” is marksman), a sense of absolute justice and a clear distrust in the institutions.
Lorenz’s staging further enriches the painting. It uses an apparently conventional script to show, with admirable subtlety, everything that is put into discussion in terms of values every time Hollywood wants to return to a more classic cinema: the decisions of the protagonist, what he leaves behind, the spirit of sacrifice, consciousness of a destiny.
In that sense, Jim Hanson could perfectly identify with several of the characters played by Eastwood throughout his career. The distrustful, lonely man, disappointed in life and suspicious of a path other than that marked by his own values, has a lot to do with his career. That it is his turn in this case to embody Neeson is explained only by a question of age. At 91, Eastwood could no longer play characters like that, only direct them.
The shadow of Eastwood is always there, but Neeson’s acting charisma is so powerful that it is easy for him to own the role. The tough, harsh and life-beaten man who slowly lets his heart and spirit appear in the middle of his shell is a hero that Eastwood revealed to us more and more over time. Only a handful of actors of classical training and lineage could embody it with the same conviction. Liam Neeson belongs to that little brotherhood in which we also recognize, for example, Kevin Costner, Bradley Cooper or Jeff Bridges.
Lorenz makes the most of the acting fiber of his protagonist and constructs in El Protector a story that is based on the magnetism of his central character. Neeson’s Hanson is a western hero, but also a war veteran, character that the director knows very well after having made films such as Sniper and The conquest of honor. Twenty years ago, The Protector would have been an ideal story for Clint Eastwood to play. It’s up to Liam Neeson to fill that place. The Irishman is a modern man of the West. And a hero with all the letters.
The Protector (The Marksman) is available on Netflix; Relentless revenge opens this Thursday in theaters.
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In The Protector, Liam Neeson is a western hero in the shadow of Clint Eastwood