At this point in Liam Neeson’s career, the frequency of Taken-like stories he headlines has got to be purposeful. For one, Neeson makes for a damn fine action hero. His characters tend to be believable in their strength and skill, relying more often on out-smarting his opponents than using sheer physical strength, like characters played by Scott Adkins, Chris Hemsworth, Will Smith, Sylvester Stallone, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. For two, they’ve got to be becoming incredibly easy for him to make at this point, allowing himself to just have a grand ole time. Having watched Honest Thief, number two certainly seems to be more than just a guess as the film’s central cast seems to be having so much fun reveling in a script that’s pure popcorn cinema. In a trim 99 minutes, Honest Thief has Neeson play a bank robber who finds himself on the run after he’s betrayed by two federal agents and is forced to fight his way to freedom by clearing his name the only way he can: using his Marine training. Seriously, with this log line, how could it not be a Neeson picture?
For more than a decade, Tom Dolan (Neeson) has robbed banks without leaving a shred of evidence. As much fun as he’s having, he shifts his thinking about the future when he meets Annie Wilkins (Kate Walsh), a clerk at a local storage facility working on earning her degree in psychology. After a year together, he decides to turn himself in for his crimes, hoping that he can work out a deal for a reduced sentence in order to maintain his relationship with Annie. Trouble is, after so many years of false confessions, the FEDs aren’t so easily convinced of his guilt. Using $3 million as proof, Dolan expectedly satisfies case officers’ John Nivens (Jai Courtney) and Ramon Hall (Anthony Ramos) disbelief, but what he doesn’t expect is that they want the money for themselves.
If you’re coming to Honest Thief for entertainment, you’re not looking for Shakespeare. Actually, better yet, you are looking for Shakespeare, the one of the Elizabethan era, not the one we think of now. In his era, Shakespeare was considered low brow, populist entertainment. It’s only with time and examination that his work has grown to be a focus for entire departments of academia. Will Honest Thief end up with that kind of reverence in a 100 years or so? Doubtful, but it’ll be no less entertaining. The story and script developed by Steve Allrich (The Timber) and Mark Williams (A Family Man), who also directs, is smart where it needs to be smart and acceptably dumb where it needs to be dumb. How do you make a bank robber on equal footing with two federal agents? You make him a former marine with a particular set of skills. How do you make him sympathetic? You (a) make him charming, (b) give the audience a plausible reason for cheering him on, and (c) instill a motivation for his initial misdeeds audiences can relate to. These things create a foundation for a sleek actioner that you don’t have to think too hard about to enjoy, making it easier for the dumb stuff to be forgiven. Example: only in an action movie can two people fall two stories, land on their backs, and not need medical attention. Only in an action movie can someone suffer from a severe, life-threatening concussion yet be basically back to normal after a night or two. We forgive these trespasses in logic because we understand the genre demands a looseness with reality in order to give us the kind of entertainment we can still sit back, relax, and just dig on. With the world entrenched in life-threatening seriousness, there’s nothing wrong with a little nonsense.
For their part, the cast does appear to be having a good time. Neeson is as cool as ever in a role which he can easily do in his sleep at this point. Sure, audiences have come to expect this kind of character from Neeson, but that doesn’t mean he slacks off in any kind of way. Walsh, as his lady love, makes fine use of the script in her performance, creating a character that reacts reasonably to the revelation of her lovers past, handles the violence to come, and believably presents a fierce front. Frankly, Walsh, more than anyone, seem to be having a good time reacting to the ridiculousness of the situation. As the lead offending officer, Courtney makes good use of his brutish physicality and gift of a convincing smart mouth. His performance of Nevins easily falls somewhere between Suicide Squad’s Captain Boomerang (2016) and killer sniper Charlie in Jack Reacher (2012), possessing a great deal of precise brutality and chilling wise-ass. In one particular scene, right as Nevins is about to engage in a particularly nasty bit of business, Williams captures Courtney from behind, yet the audience can see Courtney shift his body to indicate that Nevins is preparing himself to inflict pain. The combination of acting and direction helps to highlight just how psychologically bent Nevins is, compartmentalizing his violent tendencies with their own distinct physical traits. Ramos is fine as Hall, but the real treat was seeing his real life wife, Jasmine Cephas Jones (Hamilton) briefly appear as his character’s wife. This fact does nothing for the story, even if a fun little nod for aware fans. Speaking of unexpected treats, Jeffery Donovan (USA’s Burn Notice) appears as Federal Agent Sean Meyers, a character with a personal tie to tracking down Dolan, elevating what should be a fairly rote character of authority into someone with personality beyond the script.
With reality being what it is these days, sometimes it’s nice to just pull up something comforting, make some popcorn, and just disappear for a little while. That’s what Honest Thief offers, a respite from the world in the form of stupid, bone-crunching fun. Frankly, if you’re not laughing at the ways Neeson’s Dolan whoops ass, then Honest Thief really isn’t going to be for you anyway. And that’s ok. With the variations Neeson offers on the Taken-esque premise of “a man with a special set of skills,” there’s easily another you can pick coming pretty soon.
**No special features included on the home release.**
For more information, head to the official Honest Thief website.
Available on digital beginning December 8th, 2020.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD beginning December 29th, 2020.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.