Here is the latest entry into the unofficial subgenre of Liam Neeson Action Thriller, and unfortunately, Honest Thief doesn’t have much to add. We are soon to reach the twelfth anniversary of the movie whose success led to an unexpected path for Neeson – once an actor whose talents were used for big, brash characters and historical figures – late in his career. These affairs have been more miss than hit, and this movie lands somewhere near the middle of the pack. Nothing it offers is particularly misguided or offensive, but the screenplay by Steve Allrich and director Mark Williams also doesn’t really stretch itself to offer exactly what the filmmakers believe audiences really want: for Neeson to play a man done wrong in some way and, through action and firefights, for him to set things right.

That certainly is the case with Neeson’s Tom Dolan, a career criminal who has garnered the nickname “the In-and-Out Bank Robber” for the way he cautiously and meticulously, but quickly, robs a bank and leaves the premises without a trace. He dislikes the name, being a professional with a sense of duty and honor, for its infantilization of his work, but that’s very nearly behind him. He has met Annie (Kate Walsh, decisively elevating the material she’s been given), a lovely woman who loves him back, and now a life crime feels far less important than building a life with someone. He sets a meeting with two FBI agents, Baker (Robert Patrick) and Meyers (Jeffrey Donovan), to turn himself in, but he must have some assurances that the agency’s pursuit of him will end.

Unfortunately for Tom, Baker puts two junior agents on the case: Nivens (Jai Courtney), who is pretty openly corrupt, and Hall (Anthony Ramos), who at this point is just going along with his partner’s schemes for fear that he’ll be killed if he doesn’t. Tom has stowed money in the high seven figures in a storage compartment where Annie works (hence, how the two met). Nivens would rather keep it, place it in an unofficial retirement fund for himself, and leave it “accidentally” unreported. Tom, of course, had the foresight to plan a contingency if such a thing happened, and after a double cross that leaves another FBI agent dead, it’s a life on the run for him and Annie (who is only here to be placed in mortal danger on multiple occasions).

Curiously, Allrich and Williams place Nivens and Hall in a place of importance in this narrative that is equal to that of Tom and Annie. More than half of the plot follows Hall’s attempts to break away from his partner and offer help to the protagonist, while the material that follows Tom is just an extended chase in which he must outwit both the corrupt junior agents and prove his case to Baker and, eventually, Meyers. This is diverting enough, one supposes, but a major problem occurs when one realizes that every character snugly fits into a generic type: the stoic hero, the damsel-in-distress of a love interest, the moral center (here, Meyers, as played quite solidly by Donovan), the actual villain, the uncertain lackey, and the lamb whose sacrifice is the major plot incident.

The screenwriters flatly refuse to break out of this mold, and so Williams must heavily rely on the action sequences to do the legwork. The staging is solid enough, so that nothing is chopped into oblivion in the editing room. The problem is more one of conviction. Williams isn’t doing anything “wrong,” per se, but his heart also doesn’t seem to be in it. The same could be said for Neeson, who at this point could play someone like Tom in his sleep, and his exhausted line readings here don’t offer convincing proof, well, that he isn’t half asleep here. It’s a passable performance at best, and it comes to define Honest Thief all too well. This is a competent thriller, to be sure, but in a way that only inspires the damning of faint praise.

Honest Thief doesn’t have much to add to the unofficial subgenre of Liam Neeson Action Thriller.
50 %
Utterly Ordinary
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