Tom Carter (Liam Neeson) is a high-profile bank robber, known as the “In-And-Out Bandit”, due to his ability to plan and carry out over 8 vault robberies across a decade and always evade capture. His outlook on life changes when he falls for Annie Sumpter (Kate Walsh) and proposes to hand himself over to the FBI, return all the money, and negotiate a shorter jail term to clear his conscience for the future. But two corrupt FBI agents, Nivens (Jai Courtney) and Hall (Anthony Romos) decide to keep the extensive haul for themselves and assassinate Carter in the process. But Carter isn’t going to let that happen and vows to fights back…
Since 2008, Liam Neeson veered into mainstream action films with the sleeper hit Taken. It proved it could be an older man using a certain set of skills to dish out blunt, bloody vengeance against the bad guys. His deep Irish / American growl, leathery good likes, and imposing frame make him an unlikely but audience-pleasing mature action hero. From then he continued the run of action flicks with the likes of The A-Team, Unknown, Non-Stop and Cold Pursuit.
FBI operative Robert Patrick (in a criminally short role) assigns two agents to investigate Carter and decide if his admission is legit. Jai Courtney’s Nivens and Anthony Ramos’s Hall are the FBI hotshots who find the money, get swayed by the almighty dollar, decide to keep it for themselves and set-up Carter for murder to lock him away. It only takes a few moments for Neeson to see what danger he is in, and then begins his battle to take down the corrupt FBI agents, clear his name, and protect Annie at all costs.
After an opening half that sets up all our characters, motives, plans, and pitfalls, the second half allows Neeson to turn the tides minute by minute on the villainous duo. There’s no major exposition, no great plot twists or genre-bending plot points, but it’s simple and easy watching stuff for what you’d expect for one of these Neeson outings, especially when he hangs up the phone to Courtney with the threat “I’m coming for you”, all to the war-esque drum beats from veteran composer Mark Isham that populate the film.
It’s Courtney who’s the baddest apple in the rotten bunch, and he’s hamming it up for all he’s worth as a suited and booted, gun-toting hard-man and Ramos is the “good cop”, but still bad. It’s the usual mix of characters we’ve seen before, but that’s not to say somehow here they are still entertaining thanks to the talent on show. Courtney is much better in these basic, semi-wooden roles rather than getting something meaty to try and play out.
The story may be a familiar one, but compared to some of his recent efforts, this is actually a well-produced little action thriller for Neeson thanks to the talent on and off-screen surrounding him. While the law chases him down, led by honest FBI agent Jeffrey Donovan, Carter never lets up on chasing the real villains of the piece with some impressive action sequences and stunt work such as some tyre burning car chases and window-smashing, pistol shooting fist-fights. The sequences favour practical effects and stunts, working with Neeson’s age and not having him leap any wire fences or be some invulnerable action man in his youth. He spends most of the time fighting with his fists and his words, not just endless rounds of pistol ammunition.
Thanks to his attempts at finding love with the beautiful Walsh, Neeson has more motive for doing his ass-kicking schtick than simply all-out blind vengeance. Donovan also has some decent scenes with Neeson as the FBI agent who’s caught between the battle and you just know will get the right bad guys in the end, but it’s not going to be easy getting there.
In these lacklustre times of 2020 when new movies have been delayed or slipped through the net, it’s strangely comforting to have Liam Neeson back doing what he does best for a year when you just need to have some mindless entertainment and action to escape the mundane day-to-day we are trapped in. The slow-burning suspense in watching both sides of the FBI close in on their targets adds more to this than just silly gun-play, and again it all works to the actors’ strengths by having characters with morals rather than just as cardboard cut-outs.
It’s one of Neeson’s best thrillers in recent years, laced with the ever-present threat of police corruption and menace without being over-the-top in presentation or style thanks to director Mark Williams and his experience in the genre.
Dir: Mark Williams
Scr: Steve Allrich & Mark Williams
Cast: Liam Neeson, Kate Walsh, Jai Courtney, Anthony Ramos, Jeffrey Donovan and Robert Patrick
Prd: Mark Williams, Myles Nestel, Tai Duncan & Craig Chapman
DoP: Shelly Johnson
Runtime: 95 minutes
Honest Thief is released across the UK (in selected cinemas) from October 23rd 2020.