Synopsis – Wanting to lead an honest life, a notorious bank robber turns himself in, only to be double-crossed by two ruthless FBI agents.
My Take – I think we can all adhere to the fact that ever since Taken released twelve years ago, the Liam Neeson action thriller has become its own genre. And for good measure. Despite being 68 years old, the Northern Irish actor commands himself as a man onscreen you don’t want to get on the wrong side of, a factor which has been proven ill-advised course of action for movie villains. Making him, over the last decade one of the most unlikely action stars.
Before I continue, I’d like to confess that I am fan, and any non-franchise, off-center action vehicle which features him beating people up is automatically a moderate winner in my book. While he has had his set of misses like the Taken sequels, his action career has largely kept ticking along because he’s been willing to push things a little, by bouncing between films like A Walk Among the Tombstones, Run All Night, The Commuter and Unknown, Neeson has managed to find ways to keep his formula relatively varied while still delivering what his fans are looking for.
Even though Neeson had publicly stated that last year’s Cold Pursuit would be his last action flick, he has returned to continue his run with director Mark Williams’s sophomore effort following the Gerard Butler led drama, A Family Man (2016), in a film which does absolutely nothing to break the mold.
Yes, the film is perfectly satisfying for what it is, which is being the most generic action film he’s made in a while, yet it remains largely watchable mainly due to Neeson‘s terrific performance and a middling yet engaging screenplay.
The story follows Tom Carter (Liam Neeson), an ex-marine turned bank robber who has racked up a seven-figure haul from various banks over the last few years. However, his life takes an unexpected turn when he meets Annie (Kate Walsh) at a storage center and falls head over heels. Now after spending the whole of one year together, Carter is ready for the next step, but to do that he realizes he can’t keep lying to Annie regarding his profession.
Determined to surrender himself for a fresh start, Carter calls the FBI office, confesses to be the badly nicknamed ‘In-and-Out Bandit’, and tries to negotiate a deal, which sees him handing over the cash he has stolen in exchange for a shorter sentence in a nearby prison where Annie can visit. Unfortunately for him, Agent Sam Baker (Robert Patrick) and his partner Tom Meyers (Jeffery Donovan) get a decent laugh out of the phone call, and considering it to be just another hoax, pass along the investigation to junior agents John Nivens (Jai Courtney) and Ramon Hall (Anthony Ramos).
Unknown to either of them, the younger agents have other ideas, as they end up framing Carter for murder after they steal the cash, hence forcing the honorable crook into a violent game of cat-and-mouse by the same law enforcement officials he intended to surrender to.
You know what you’re getting with a Liam Neeson action film, and in that respect the film delivers. Whilst there’s absolutely nothing new here and we’ve seen it all before, it doesn’t make it any less entertaining. The story itself is fairly ludicrous, and the way it goes about is wholly predictable, but is peppered with enough moments of pithy dialogue and ancillary character quirks to keep things entertaining.
Yes, following the slick opening montage, the film does slow down and gets clunky while providing exposition, it soon picks up pace and sweeps in the fun popcorn fodder you’d expect from an action flick.
There are some decent car chases and shooting sequences to keep the film from feeling completely generic. With funny character quirks added to provide value like Meyers being stuck with his ex-wife’s dog or Carter grousing about being dubbed “The In-and-Out Bandit”, all adding just enough sparkle to keep things interesting.
Although classified primarily as an action film, a surprisingly heavy emphasis has also been made on the emotional and romantic relationship between Tom and Annie, who manage to stick together despite the dire circumstances.
Frankly, there’s a level of quality to Liam Neeson actioners, which you just don’t get from other aging action stars. It’s not just gratitude that he hasn’t gone totally off the rails like, say, Bruce Willis: even when a Neeson actioner seems like a fairly basic effort, which let’s admit, this one is, there’s always a couple of scenes or twists that show that somebody somewhere along the line was looking to make a decent film.
Performance wise, Liam Neeson as an actor doesn’t have much to do here, and he plays it at the same level, giving the character just as much as he needs, no more, no less. Kate Walsh is equally enjoyable as Tom’s sweet yet gutsy girlfriend Annie and the pair’s natural chemistry adds a sense of authenticity to their on-screen relationship.
Jai Courtney’s loathsome pit bull of a villain may be a little one-note, but his relentless pugnacity provides a satisfying foil for Neeson’s honest thief. In other roles, Jeffrey Donovan, Anthony Ramos and Robert Patrick are alright. On the whole, ‘Honest Thief’ is a generic yet watchable Liam Neeson led actioner which manages to provide light, enjoyable entertainment.
Directed – Mark Williams
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 99 minutes