Liam Neeson as Tom Carter
Kate Walsh as Annie Sumpter
Jai Courtney as John Nivens
Jeffrey Donovan as Tom Meyers
Anthony Ramos as Ramon Hall
Robert Patrick as Sam Baker
Jasmine Cephas Jones as Beth Hall
Co-Written and Directed by Mark Williams; Co-Written by Steve Allrich
Honest Thief Review:
“Liam Neeson versus [insert enemy here].” It’s the ultimate formula for the action genre since the Oscar nominee found a new niche audience with 2008’s Taken and it’s one that’s delivered such highs as Joe Carnahan’s The Grey, Scott Frank’s A Walk Among the Tombstones and Jaume Collet-Serra’s Non-Stop and though his latest venture, Honest Thief, may not reach the mid-level bars they’ve set, it still proves to be a plenty fun and darkly humorous thrill ride.
They call him the “In-and-Out Bandit” because meticulous thief Tom Carter has stolen $9 million from small-town banks while managing to keep his identity a secret. But after he falls in love with the bubbly Annie, Tom decides to make a fresh start by coming clean about his criminal past, only to be double-crossed by two ruthless FBI agents, requiring him to dive back into his criminal skillset to set things right and earn his second chance at life.
The story of a seasoned criminal seeking an out from his past or a way to redeem it for a better life is certainly nothing new, but the way co-writers Mark Williams and Steve Allrich establish their world and their characters feels like a rich enough tapestry of interesting-enough characters with charming and likable personalities are compelling enough draws to forgive the unoriginality and predictability of the story. The means in which Tom would rob the banks while avoiding detection is a simple and believable explanation rather than a more convoluted or uninteresting approach, the motives behind his past feel grounded and are movingly told once revealed that it allows audiences to maintain the connection they’ve made with their antihero protagonist, a character type Williams has perfected on Netflix’s Ozark.
In addition to the nicely-written characters, one of the film’s real strong points that helps it stand out amongst the crowd of geriatric action-thrillers is the dark sense of humor that pervades the affair. Whether it’s Jeffrey Donovan’s dog-carrying FBI agent, Robert Patrick’s quick-witted Agent Baker, Neeson’s bluntly honest Tom or Kate Walsh’s easy-to-connect-to Annie, the pacing of the film always feels as though it’s steadily moving not just thanks to the action of the film but from much of the levity the cast all bring to their performances, especially the 52-year-old Burn Notice alum. There’s no denying the burgeoning love story between Tom and Annie is the heart of the film and is relatively sweet to watch, but the bond that develops between Donovan’s Agent Meyers and his reluctantly-owned small dog Tazzie brings out some of the best jokes in the film.
Much like the story of the film, the action itself is fairly hit-or-miss in its execution, with plenty of pulse-pounding sequences any genre fan is sure to marvel at though many display the smaller budget the film was given. From shoddy CGI fire that could make the filmmakers of the Baywatch remake blush to a few hand-to-hand sequences cutting a little too frequently to hide the use of a stunt double or two, the sequences themselves are mostly enjoyable, even if a little poorly made.
One of the real shining lights of the film, to no one’s surprise, is the delightfully wicked performance from Jai Courtney as the villainous corrupt Agent Nivens. Time and time again, the Australian performer has delivered charming performances in every role from the antihero villain Captain Boomerang in Suicide Squad to a less-prepared Kyle Reese in Terminator: Genisys, and from the moment he’s introduced on screen, he chews up every bit of scenery he can with his performance. He walks a fine line between a knowing understanding that what he’s doing is essentially wrong while also believably trying to convince reluctant partner Agent Hall (a warm Anthony Ramos), the audience and even himself, making for a brilliant performance to watch from start to finish.
There’s no denying there’s plenty of predictability to Mark Williams’ Honest Thief, but thanks to a darkly humorous script, some exciting action sequences and stellar performances from Jeffrey Donovan and Jai Courtney, as well as strong ones from Neeson and Anthony Ramos, this is an action-thriller sure to please genre fans and those looking for a good popcorn flick.