When Chicago film writers Danny Kravitz and Chris Charles aimed to do something new for their next project, one of them was in the midst of researching immigration conflicts on America’s southern border.
“We wanted to do something completely different that also touched on some of the same themes that we enjoy as writers: characters who have suffered loss, redemption — people in need of help,” said Charles. “I presented an idea to Danny that took place in that region, and it didn’t stick at first but we just kept digging into it and exploring the characters and the storyline.””
The duo, who met when Charles was a student in Kravitz’s Columbia College screenwriting class, decided to move forward on the project, which became “The Marksman,” one of the winter’s biggest box-office hits.
Kravitz loved the overarching storyline of helping — embodied by a man’s promise to a Mexican immigrant family that he’ll drive their son to be with relatives in Chicago.
“There was something so important to us about a character who’s troubled in his own life — the Liam Neeson character — but the fact that he helps someone in the predicament of this young Mexican boy,” said Kravitz. “That was when it really got cool for us because we thought that’s pretty moving.”
Next, the duo needed to get the script in the hands of an actor who could properly convey Kravitz and Charles’ vision — a character who’s on the verge of losing his home and struggles to obtain consistent employment, while patrolling in the southern border as a volunteer.
Veteran actor Liam Neeson agreed to play the man, who becomes the reluctant protector of a young Mexican boy fleeing cartel assassins. (The film’s director and co-writer, longtime Clint Eastwood collaborator Robert Lorenz, also hails from Chicago.)
“On set when talking to Liam about the project, he told us about how much he enjoyed the script and how much he connected to the character as an immigrant himself who had emigrated here many years ago,” said Charles. “… But for him it was personal and he said he’d like to think that if he were in Jim’s shoes — his character — that he would make the same decisions.”
Getting Neeson to sign on was key for the duo. “Back in 2009, when we first set out on this journey together, we had a lot of ideas about dream casting and how we hoped the movie would turn out,” said Charles. “I don’t think we ever could have imagined that Liam Neeson, who was one of our few dream casting options, would end up starring in the film and it would go on to be No. 1 at the box office for two consecutive weeks.”
Critic’ reaction to “The Marksman” has been mixed. Kravitz and Charles attribute the negative reviews to what audiences normally expect from films starring Neeson.
“So I think what happened was some initial critics were thinking they were watching ‘Taken,’ and they were like: ‘What is this?’ But the [positive reviews] started to trickle in a little later,” said Kravitz. “They saw it for what it is. They were like: ‘Wow, this is a really deep and moving story that happens to star this amazing action star.’ ”
Timing also was an issue, as they see it, with “The Marksman” arriving in January on the heels of George Clooney’s “The Midnight Sky” and Tom Hanks’ “News of the World.”
“There were three movies in a very short period of time that had an older person interacting with a younger person,” Kravitz said, “and critics I think were a little sick of that.”
But Kravitz and Charles also see a silver lining in the timing of the film’s release.
“We think the timing for the release of this film couldn’t be better because of all the divisiveness and unrest in this country,” said Charles, now based in Madison, Wisconsin. “We hope that when people see this film they walk away from it feeling that we are so much better off helping one another than we are being divided and looking at our differences. This is a story that doesn’t wade into politics. But it’s a human story that cuts across all the different viewpoints.
“If you’re a human being, and you care about other human beings, you’re going to sympathize with both of these characters and you’re going to want them to help each other.”