We know what we’re getting from Liam Neeson these days.
12 years have passed since Taken became a hit. Suddenly, the serious star of Schindler’s List and Michael Collins became a rather surprising action hero. Now a fixture of B-movies – beating people up and barking macho dialogue with a thespian touch, Neeson has turned into a more distinguished Jason Statham, if you will.
In between his appearances in the odd prestige drama and controversial press interview, Neeson has devoted much of the last decade to a stream of pretty similar pulp action thrillers. Elevated by his charisma and genuine acting talent, he’ll often star as a difficult man with a complicated past. Either working for law enforcement or trying to evade it, he punches a few people, gets involved in a car chase, says something threatening to the relatively recognisable actors around him and then moves onto the next one.
Financially, it’s been a winning formula. Quality-wise, some, like Run All Night and A Walk Among the Tombstones, have been genuinely good. Others (Taken 2), have been utterly terrible. Regardless of standard, what you get is the same basic product.
Quality-wise, Honest Thief sits somewhere in the middle of Neeson’s action canon. Closer to the higher end of the scale, it fills its 99-minute run time with enough action and stakes to hold interest.
Neeson plays Tom, the titular honest thief. After a lucrative career as a bank robber, he wishes to leave his life of crime behind, turn himself in, serve his time and hopefully then be able to settle down with his partner Annie (Kate Walsh).
Needless to say, things don’t quite go to plan. The film leads us down a predictable path of corruption, double-crossing, a few shoot outs and a touch of peril. It’s pretty perfunctory stuff, but perfectly watchable and occasionally quite exciting.
As ever, Neeson is on good form. He generates sympathy for Tom and legitimises his cause, making him a likeable rogue. To no shock, he revels in the gruff one-liners and gets plenty of chances to sound threatening on the phone.
Walsh is a welcome presence and Annie’s romance with Tom is surprisingly well played. Though it is lacking development and depth, there’s a level of earnestness in how the film cares about them as a couple, a rare quality within the genre. Neeson and Walsh have good chemistry and their relationship is sweet, giving another reason to root for Tom, rather than roll your eyes.
The film covers the well-trodden ground of cops and robbers, but the range of FBI agents on screen are not distinctive nor interesting. Jai Courtney is his usual uncharismatic self as Agent Nivens and we have little reason to care about his partner Agent Hall (Anthony Ramos), beyond him having a family and a conscience.
However, Jeffrey Donovan’s Agent Myers makes the chase a bit more engrossing. Allegiances shift as the story develops and Myers’ dynamic with Tom evolves when it appears that his FBI colleagues may not be all that they seem. Neeson and Donovan share several enjoyable scenes as the film draws parallels between their characters.
The action is handled competently and serves an impressively lean and direct plot well. A claustrophobic shoot out and a violent car chase involving a cupcake van are the standouts, but there is not a set piece here that will stick in the mind for long. It’s serviceable, but with Neeson now 68 years old, his films are limited by what his characters could (somewhat) feasibly do.
Possessing enough thrills, one-liners and action to carry it over an hour and a half, Honest Thief is a familiar action film, with a typical Neeson performance at its heart. Nothing about the film is revolutionary, or even remotely new, but Neeson does this brand of pulpy, stripped-back action thrillers better than most.
Words by Dan Haygarth