Film Review: Honest Thief
Director: Mark Williams
Sprockefeller Pictures and Argonaut Entertainment Partners
In Theaters: 10.16
First off, let me just say that I’m as upset as anyone about the “cancel culture” that plagues our society and the way it destroys the careers of anyone who says or does anything unpopular. This seemingly unstoppable force is a monster that we must destroy, and I intend to get right on that. But first, now that I’ve seen the trailer for Mel Gibson‘s Santa Claus action flick and finished every episode of Kevin Hart‘s series on Quibi, as well as reading the latest news about production gearing up on J.K. Rowling‘s next Fantastic Beasts movie with Johnny Depp, it’s time to review the new Liam Neeson film, Honest Thief.
Tom Carter (Neeson) is a man with a secret: He’s a notorious bank robber known as the “In-and-Out Bandit,” because he gets in and out without leaving a trace, not because he has a secret menu. Throughout his career, Tom has stolen $9 million from small town banks, never getting caught, but when he falls in love with a charmer named Annie (Kate Walsh, Grey’s Anatomy), Tom decides to make a fresh start by coming clean about his criminal past and tries to make a deal with the FBI: the money in exchange for a reduced sentence in a minimum-security facility where he can see Annie. But when the two young agents (Jai Courtney and Anthony Ramos) who meet with him find that he really does have $9 million in cash, they take the money and frame Tom for murder. Tom has no choice but to run, and it goes without saying that he sets out to clear his name—or his alias, I should say, because his name isn’t really Tom Carter—and to bring the bad guys to justice.
It’s rare that a movie can get so much mileage out of not entirely sucking, but with Neeson’s tough-as-nails action star phase plunging to such unfathomable depths as Unknown, Non-Stop, Run All Night and Taken 3, he had become a joke well before his shocking and controversial statements almost made him unemployable. The one time Oscar territory perennial had reached a point where his presence in a movie was an urgent warning to stay the hell away. Forget about Schindler’s List, fans like myself just longed for the days of The Phantom Menace.
Honest Thief isn’t great, but it’s really not half bad, at least as far as these kinds of movies go. Director Mark Williams, co-creator of Ozark, may not be aiming very high, but at least he’s going for something different from the “Me bad ass, you dead!,” Neeson shtick that has become so excruciatingly boring. It’s surprisingly easy to forgive the film’s shortcomings, which include a lot of half-formed stock characters, a dearth of really memorable chase sequences and a plot that wraps up far too neatly.
Neeson is obviously having fun, and it’s nice that the Boston setting allows him to merely do a milder version of his own Irish lilt, rather than trying too hard too hard to cover it up with growling gruffness. He actually has more chemistry with Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice) as the honest FBI agent than he does with Walsh, but she’s perfectly fine in her role. Courtney is doing his best with a one-note character, which is pretty much the story of his career, but by far the best performance in the film comes from Ramos as the more conflicted of the two corrupt agents. He’s an explosive talent who is best known as John Laurens and Phillip in Hamilton, and as Ramon, Ally’s tag-along friend in A Star is Born. Ramos does more with his underwritten role here than can be reasonably expected of him, and his presence raised the movie up a couple of notches for me.
Honest Thief isn’t anything to get too excited about, but it’s just fun and diverting enough to be a step up for Neeson’s career in popcorn thrillers. This one may taste a little stale, but at least you won’t choke on it. –Patrick Gibbs