Directed By Mark Williams
Starring – Liam Neeson, Kate Walsh, Jai Courtney
The Plot – They call him the In-and-Out-Bandit because meticulous thief Tom Carter (Neeson) 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 (Walsh), Tom decides to make a fresh start by coming clean about his criminal past, only to be double-crossed by two ruthless FBI agents.
Rated PG-13 for strong violence, crude references and brief strong adult language
– Storied characterization. One thing to appreciate about this film and all of its pivotal pawns is the way it takes ample time in the script to flesh each of them out, and vividly illustrate the twists and turns of life, which would answer for but not justify the decisions each of them make to define a lifetime. This is certainly the case for Neeson’s Tom, a bank robber with a conscience that beats from within every single day he’s on the run from authorities, but it also alludes to the authority figures, both good and bad, who are hot on his tail. One such FBI captain, played by Jeffrey Donovan, is fleshed out in a way that details his trysts with having a normal everyday social life with a job like his, and bringing along a canine best friend throughout as the semblenace for such that he craves. In addition, the antagonists themselves are also cohesively illustrated as everyday people, complete with families and responsibilities that make their decisions all the more hefty the longer the film persists. It gives the film a channeling for humanity that is otherwise overlooked in films of this caliber, and proves that the differences between authorities and their prey is closer than people think.
– Strong ensemble. There’s much to appreciate about the performances from this expandingly stacked cast, which begins and ends with another everyday blue-chipper from Neeson. Part of what makes Neeson such a compelling watch in roles that practically mirror each other is not only the confidence he instills in his deliveries, but also in the humanity he embodies that constantly hangs in the balance of a rearview mirror for each of his decisions. It’s easy to invest and even feel empathy for a man doing such devilish deeds, and stands as a testament to Neeson whose by the numbers approach to such roles garners with it the most meaningful of returns in colorful protagonists. Alongside Liam, Donovan hands in a strong turn as the head of an FBI division, instilling some salty one-liners and vibrant personality for the character that reminded me of Robert Duvall in 1993’s “Falling Down”. This is clearly a man who does his job so well that it often has an effect on other areas of his life, and etches out a workaholic that stands as the perfect companion piece to Neeson’s vengeful rage. There’s also meaningful turns from Walsh, Anthony Ramos, and even Jai Courtney, who I’m often critical of for adding nothing of depth to one-dimensional characters.
– Meaningful minutes. Clocking in at a brief 88 minutes, “Honest Thief” barely has enough time to get its feet wet in juggling many continuous angles and respective subplots, but what it does do exceptionally well is bottling the energy of the main narrative, giving us very few moments of breath in between the ensuing mayhem. Almost immediately, the script gets off to an uproarious start, setting the stage first-hand at Neeson’s strange profession, and bringing forth a series of chain reactions that spring because of such motivations. From here, the investigation and ensuing chase never have time to lag or stall because of the evolution of these supporting characters ensued in the madness, as well as their actions which are responded to in accordingly smooth fashion. It harvests a fluid consistency in pacing for the film that did keep me invested even through the moments of frustrating direction that ultimately define the film for the worse, and makes “Honest Thief” at the very least an endearing ride whose creative engine always drives forward.
– Production consistency. Something that I often don’t give enough credit to in films like these is the consistency between scenes and sequences for bruising and scarring done from some incredible touches of make-up work that triumphs in establishing this all taking place within a series of days. This is especially the case here, as the make-up for Neeson’s second act bruising not only remains displayed in its original location on his face, but also age naturally in the decaying process in color that grants it great believability. Nothing in the film’s ensuing physicality ever brings forth anything that is obviously permanent or spectacularly gruesome for the violence it stems from, but I am entirely more likely to praise the subtleties of distinguishing marks, for the way it could easily be forgotten about for having such a minimal impact on the distinguishing identity of its characters. Everything here lines up accordingly with where the force trauma took shape, and brings forth an air of appreciation for the behind-the-scenes production that invests realism in such extraordinary plots.
– Smart takes. There’s a couple of unique touches in the characters and scenarios that I appreciated in the sheer intelligence of the picture, and ones that I felt helped prolong the heat of the conflict. First, the antagonists are wise enough to know when they are being recorded, and act as such when Neeson tries to set them up for their own undoing. This requires Neeson to switch up his gameplan quite frequently, but beyond that articulates the intelligence that FBI authorities-turned-criminals have been trained for. I also appreciated that what little stakes the movie did have were maintained regardless of where the movie and characters were headed. For Neeson, that means the inevitability of heading to prison at best for the bad crimes he committed, and at death for worse. Either situation doesn’t present him with a clear road that leads him out of the darkness, and there’s much to commend about a movie that doesn’t relieve a heralded protagonist of such consequences because of the actions of his past, regardless if it’s popular or not with its audience.
– Derivative. It only takes one look at the trailer for the movie to correctly compare it to past Neeson action capers like “Taken”, but made all the more apparent when you actually dig in to the meat of the material, which feels like reheated leftovers from those better movies. For my money, the plot structure itself, complete with a female heroine who is physically taken advantage of, is one that Neeson is certainly no stranger of, but even more obvious than that it’s the underwhelming dialogue within the movie that is so on-the-nose and obvious that it practically feels like a spoof on Neeson action movies. Particularly pointing to lines like “Agent Nevins, I’m coming for you”, or “I have an extraordinary skillset” are practically lifted from those previous properties, especially when you consider how a thief in this film is anything other than what he played as an authority figure in those, and how it’s forcefully stitched together because of its main star. It’s the most difficult problem that this film faces in its own promiscuity, and limits the expansive range of Neeson, which has already been proven in films like “Schindler’s List”, “Batman Begins”, or “A Monster Calls”.
– Unnatural dialogue. While on the subject of the movie’s dialogue, another problem sprung forth in front of me, and presented several moments of groaning displeasure because of the obvious intentions that it had in the outlining of the scene. This is a big problem in the first act of the movie, because a natural flow in dialogue and banter between Neeson and Walsh is traded in for an abundance of long-winded, flashback sequencing meant to tie everything together, and compliment a series of trailers that can and are summarized in a series of seven or eight words. Everything contained escapes the realm of realistic interaction, and halts the film’s storytelling several times along the way to hammering home its true intentions with the kind of subtlety of a Mac truck slamming into a Nitroglycerine tank. It only repeats everything that has already been established in the marketing for the film, and frustrates for the span of repetition that it simply never evolves from.
– Uninspiring action. If you go to see a Liam Neeson movie for its physical action or daring set pieces, you will be sorely disappointed with “Honest Thief”. With the exception of two fights, which span a matter or maybe two minutes, and one explosion revealed candidly in the trailer, the movie is completely void of anything that capitalizes on the thriller subgenre aspect that was promised, and what little that does remain has no shortage of technical problems to keep an audience ensued with what is transpiring. As is the case for a majority of contemporary action films, this one also has a desire in overcomplicating the execution, complete with trigger-happy editing and claustrophobic camera work that distorts such simple visual storytelling. This makes a scene of two people feel like one with twenty or thirty, and distorts so much of the hit detection and facial registries that make it nearly impossible to invest in the complexion of the sequence.
– One big plot hole. Even after watching this film and putting all of the pieces together, I can’t for the life of me understand why Neeson’s character ever thought to turn himself in. The easy and obvious answer is a guilty conscience, but I have difficulty prescribing to a notion that doesn’t merit accuracy, especially considering he has already attained nine million dollars in cash from multiple banks, and even continued doing so when he met this magical dream woman who has completely transformed his life. The authorities investigation isn’t even close to figuring out who the bandit is. Hell, you could even argue that the case is left dormant when the movie begins, but somehow we are forced to believe that this man will always be looking behind his back during a life that exceeds his wildest expectations? I don’t buy it. For my money, I would’ve better subscribed to this theory if the FBI caught him, but didn’t have enough evidence to properly nail him. Then a Neeson confession could’ve went a long way in sewing the sides together. As it stands, it’s just another plot convenience for the sake of conflict, and buries its logic deeper the more the audience thinks about everything.
– Weak direction. Williams as a director lacks much of the instinct and experience needed in fully fleshing out a narrative with this level of stakes and anxiety to translate property to the urgency of the screen. On the subject of urgency, there isn’t any long term consistency that attains a shred of unpredictability or uncertainty for our lead protagonist. Aside from this, the advancing of the story feels very elementary, complete with telegraphed movements and repetition that does it zero favors in terms of the depth of its story. On top of this, the cerebral mobility cinematography from Shelly Johnson is stunted at the seams because of a color correction scheme for the film that continuously feels like it persists within the realm of a daydream or flashback sequence, and presents no semblance of beauty to what it pertains in documentation. This is Williams second film as a director, but his first in the action genre, and even though he’s capable enough with aiming the camera, the execution of the script overwhelms him in ways that had me begging for experience, and keeps the emotional capacity of the film reserved when so much should be at stake.
My Grade: 5/10 or D+