Film review: ‘HONEST THIEF’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

These days, it’s almost a spoiler to use the term ‘Liam Neeson film’ as, for the last decade most of his movies have just been a waiting game for Neeson’s gruffly charming, taciturn character to reveal himself as an indestructible tough man on a morally righteous quest which usually involves shooting and beating the crap out of sneering scumbags.

Honest Thief follows the well-trod Neeson movie path, albeit in a less offensive manner than bigoted torture porn like Taken.  In a storyline that, in addition to standard Neeson fare, recalls The Fugitive without the inventive plotting and Grosse Point Blank minus the wit and pop culture savvy, Neeson plays Tom Carter a former marine bomb disposal expert turned bank robber and who has eluded the FBI for a decade while snatching millions.  When he meets the charming Annie (Grey’s Anatomy’s Kate Walsh) Carter decides to give up his life of crime.  Coming clean to the FBI, however, proves more difficult than he thought as cynical, disinterested FBI agent (Robert Patrick) thinks he’s just another nut trying to claim credit as the mysterious ‘in and out bandit’. When a corrupt agent (Jai Courtney) and his reluctant partner (Ramon Hall) are assigned to the case and quickly develop a taste for the stolen loot, Carter’s honourable plan and his life are put in jeopardy.

With its cliched and predictable plot, this film once again raises the alarming suspicion that algorithms are now being used to create Hollywood scripts.  The code writers still have a few bugs to work out, though, as the film is not only predictable but also suffers from giant plot holes and cringeworthy dialogue such as the Byronesque Neeson comparing his feelings for Annie to mine sweeping in a war zone.

Given its cookie-cutter story, the film’s appeal relies almost entirely on the cast’s ability to give the characters some sense of conviction.  Neeson mostly succeeds as he once again slips into the quietly compelling role of tough, stoic, dignified and resourceful outsider.  Apart from a reluctance to electrocute or mutilate people, there’s little separating him from his Taken character; he even has a particular set of skills that include the ability to easily evade bullets, whoop the butt of highly trained guys half his age and make threatening phone calls in a sinister guttural voice to his sleazy nemeses.

As FBI agent Nivens, the designated numbskull who unwisely takes on Neeson, Jai Courtney chomps the scenery with glee and oddly gives what should have been a repulsive villain a Jon Favreau-like comic touch. Jeffrey Donovan, who was terrific as a violent yet strangely amusing criminal in Season Two of Fargo, isn’t given enough to do as an FBI investigator who suspects Nivens; he seems to have stepped straight out of a Law and Order style TV cop show. Also, just to confirm that this is essentially a retrograde ‘blokes’ film, Kate Walsh’s character Annie is relegated to little more than a damsel in distress role.

For all its clunkiness, though, Honest Thief is still fairly solid crime action fodder with a few tense and exciting moments amid the silliness and should satisfy Neeson fans’ desire to see the big mercurial lug outfight and outwit anyone stupid enough to cross his path.

Nick’s rating: **1/2

Genre: Drama/ Crime/ Action.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Mark Williams.

Release date: 22nd Oct 2020.

Running time: 92 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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