Action thrillers starring Liam Neeson are a mixed bag at the best of times, but Honest Thief may be the first I’ve seen that doesn’t even have a decent elevator pitch.
There’s been “Liam Neeson rescues his daughter” (AKA Taken, the granddaddy of the whole “Liam Neeson does stuff” genre), “Liam Neeson protects his son” (Run All Night), “Liam Neeson on a plane” (Non-Stop), “Liam Neeson on a train” (The Commuter), even “Liam Neeson on a snowplow while avenging his son’s death (Cold Pursuit). 1
Written and directed by Mark Williams – his first produced script and second directorial credit after 2016’s A Family Man2 – Honest Thief stars Neeson as Tom Carter, a skilled safe cracker dubbed “The In-&-Out Bandit” by the press; apt given the film in which he appears is the cinematic equivalent of takeaway.3 When Tom falls in love with kooky rental-unit-manager/psychologist-in-training Annie (Kate Walsh trying very hard), he decides to go straight. In his mind, this involves handing over his stash of cash – $9 million as yet untouched – to the FBI.
Unfortunately, the higher-ups, Agent Baker (genre legend Robert Patrick) and Meyers (Burn Notice‘s Jeffrey Donovan, eminently watchable but very much of the Joey Tribiani “smell-the-fart” school of acting), takes him for a kook and pass it down the chain of command. And so it ends up in the laps of Agents Nivens (Jai Courtney, always at his best when playing a wrong-‘un4) and Hall (Anthony Ramos, conflicted family man and SPOILER5). The opportunity arises and they take the money for themselves.
This results in plenty of opportunity for Neeson to skulk in a leather jacket and growl threats in that iconic, oh-so-gravelly Ballymena brogue. Highlights here include “Agents Nivens, I’m coming for you”, “Wrong, you got it wrong!” (*snarl*), and SPOILER6 The main issue is that the film gives him nothing to do. The most interesting character in the story is Agent Meyers, who *checks notes* is divorced and has a dog.
Honest Thief is set in Boston, but isolates the cast in vehicles; usually speeding around empty streets, occasionally with bullets ricocheting harmlessly. Filming apparently took place in Worcester, Massachusetts, but, for all the personality, it might as well have been Toronto. Williams’ direction is competent but generic and done no favours by Michael P. Shawver’s editing. Neeson may make it over a fence in a single bound7, but at least, loathe though I am to say it, Olivier Megaton et al at least have something resembling a house style; however frenetic.8
Even Neeson, ever reliable, looks more cranky than compelled. Honest Thief‘s one memorable moment – SPOILER9 – is cheapened by its reuse at the film’s (anti)climax. But at least you get to see Jeffrey Donovan have a weird soul-gaze with a cockerpoo called Tazzie at a solemn moment, so you know, something for everyone.
- And, to be fair, a few more offbeat numbers, like “Liam Neeson fights wolves (The Grey), which is, on the face of it, awesome; “Liam Neeson does neo-noir (A Walk Among the Tombstones), which has held up better in memory than my initial review; and “No one knows Liam Neeson” (Unknown), which I can’t help but think would have been more interesting written by Charlie Kaufman.
- Much more notable: the fact he co-created Netflix’s Ozarks, for which he is a double Emmy nominee, *and* produced The Accountant, which won the Movie RobCast’s “Most Batshit Movie of 2016” Award.
- The fact it is getting an IMAX release astounds me. I’m almost tempted to check it out – never before has mid-budget been writ so very large.
- His role here being, perhaps, the exception. Nivens is a thug in a suit, no humour or nuance required.
- In other words, doomed.
- “To make it worse, those gunshots that you heard was them shooting another agent, which I’m sure they’ll pin on me.”
- Unlike in Taken 3…
- Shades of Big Lebowski‘s Walter’s thoughts on National Socialism here.
- Having the hero hit the bad guy where he lives.