Starring Liam Neeson in the titular criminal role, Honest Thief may appear on the surface to be just another brainless Neeson punch-‘em-up, but the film has something that previous entries in this subgenre have wholly lacked – heart.
Neeson plays Tom, a professional bank robber who finds love with Kate Walsh’s Annie and decides it’s time to retire so that he can spend the rest of his life with the woman he loves. In the hopes of cutting a deal for a reduced sentence, Tom turns himself in and agrees to return every penny of the $9 million he has stolen – but when the money falls into the hands of two corrupt agents (Jai Courtney, Anthony Ramos) who frame Tom for murder, he must go on the run to clear his name.
While Honest Thief certainly provides all of the explosive action and hand-to-hand combat audiences have come to expect from Liam Neeson’s latest output, the film proves that there can be more to these films than the beloved Irish actor simply punching things for two hours. Here, his character is fully fleshed out and the romance between him and the film’s love interest feels genuine. The screenplay from Steve Allrich and director Mark Williams gives Neeson a role with far more depth than was seen in films like The Commuter and Run All Night, and reminds us that he is actually a bloody good actor. Kate Walsh’s performance as Annie is equally good, giving real stakes to Neeson’s plight as we truly buy the romance they share, and the life together they want. This gives the film’s action sequences more tension, and makes the dramatic twists in the narrative feel earned.
Sure, Honest Thief is not without cliché. The villainous Agent Nivens (Courtney) is a bland and undeveloped ‘corrupt cop’ bad guy, while some of the narrative beats in the film aren’t exactly unpredictable. There is very much a 90s thriller vibe to the proceedings that does mean that there isn’t a huge amount of tension at times, because we know Neeson will come out on top and the one-dimensional baddie will be defeated. But it’s still a bloody good ride. Oh, and if that doesn’t convince you, there’s a really cute dog in it. Need we say more?
Honest Thief is by no means perfect, but the balance of action, thrills and heart does make for a surprisingly great time. This is Neeson’s best film in years.