Hollywood often defines actors by their most notable box office performance, a fact that has morphed Oscar-winner Liam Neeson into a marquee action star. Since 2009’s Taken, Neeson has shot out a consistent output of actioners. Some rank well for their hard-hitting approach (The Grey and Cold Pursuit), while others have become B-movie staples through their inherent camp value (Non-Stop and The Commuter). Neeson’s latest vehicle Honest Thief finds itself in a murky middle ground, with its mere competence only taking the bland narrative so far.
Honest Thief follows Tom Dolan (Neeson) a notorious bank robber who retires once he meets the woman of his dreams Annie (Kate Walsh). To atone for his crimes and live an honest lifestyle, Tom tries to turn the money in to get a reduced sentence. His plan goes haywire when two corrupt agents (Jai Courtney and Anthony Ramos) steal Tom’s money for themselves, forcing him to go on the run in an effort to clear his name.
As an agreeable late-night option, Honest Thief does boast some shameless appeals. Liam Neeson can do this everyman role in his sleep at this point, but the addition of Kate Walsh’s bright disposition imbues new wrinkles to his persona. Their easy-going rapport crackles with an affection glow, establishing a grounded onscreen pair for the audience to attach to (their opening scene together could’ve been utilized in a rom-com).
After years of battling exaggerated circumstances (planes, trains, wolves…oh my!), it’s refreshing to see Neeson fit into an intimate narrative. The low-key stakes still pack ample tension due to Neeson and Walsh’s innate appeal. I also credit the sturdy supporting cast for enhancing their thinly-developed roles, with Robert Patrick, Anthony Ramos, and Jai Courtney doing their jobs accordingly.
While mildly diverting, Honest Thief doesn’t excel in any particular facet. Director Mark Williams shoots his project with a sterile blandness, with the TV pilot-level of construction doing little to elevate the material. This autopilot delivery translates to the thankless action setpieces. I like the idea of grounded, tight-quarters sequences, but Willaims tame hand never gives these frames much of a pulse (the heist sequences could have been appealing, but they’re truncated into a flat montage). Whether you prefer Neeson’s B-movie camp fests or his more serious endeavors, there’s nothing Honest Thief achieves that hasn’t been done better.
All could be forgiven if the film’s grounded approach reached a level of authenticity. Williams and Steve Allrich’s script never discovers that place, settling more on standard-issue action tropes that lack engagement. Several characters grapple with the morality behind their wrongdoings, but simplistic dialogue choices never convey the insular struggle with much weight. The thinly-conceived narrative also limits Neeson and Walsh’s appeals, truncating their screentime in favor of whisking audiences forward (there’s an awkward 1 year time jump after their first scene together).
I was never bored by Honest Thief, but it rarely livens up its familiar action husk. I credit Liam Neeson for continuing to push forward as an action star, but this is his most middle-of-the-road effort yet.
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