With so many big tent pole movies getting shoved off to be released god knows when or reduced to a measly direct to streaming service, my local theater could only offer re-showings of classic films or whatever slim pickings were left to put up. Usually, I know about movies years in advance due to my diligent research but lesser, small-sized films tend to slip through my radar and I end up not knowing much about them when they come out. This year, I barely knew anything about the majority of the movies being released; to the point, I didn’t even watch their trailers and decided to roll the dice and go in blind without knowing anything about the film. “Honest Thief” was my first experiment with that and thankfully, it proved to pay off in the end.
Tom Dolan (Liam Neeson) goes by the name “The In and Out bandit.” Over the course of several years, Tom has successfully stolen 9 million dollars from small-time banks and has never been caught or identified. But now he’s decided to turn himself into the FBI. He’s found love in Annie (Kate Walsh) and wishes to confess and be an honest man spending the rest of his free life with her once he’s released from prison. Unfortunately, things get complicated when he tries to turn himself over to two FBI agents (Jai Courtney and Anthony Ramos) and they end up double-crossing him and trying to kill him so they can keep the full 9 million for themselves. Now Tom is on the run with the FBI thinking he’s fleeing from FBI custody and has to prove his name before he and Annie end up locked up or worse.
Some people go into films with high expectations and some go in with very low expectations, and then you get the people who have zero expectations and just plan to walk in and see what happens without even knowing what the movie is about. Normally that latter strategy is one I avoid as I feel it’s important to know what I’m putting my money into before committing to it. “Honest Thief” feels like another run of the mill Neeson lead action flick where he runs around being a middle-aged badass; proving to be a modern Stallone/Schwarzenegger style star when most of those guys were pulling back when they were Neeson’s age. In some ways, this film is pretty predictable for Neeson’s standard fare, but with slim to zero expectations, I found myself really enjoying this film even though there wasn’t anything truly special here.
Similar to how Disney’s “The Mandalorian” approaches storytelling, they take a very simple bare-bones concept and make it work with its stellar characters, writing, and action sequences. “Honest Thief” is by no means on “Mandalorian’s” level but the same principle stands: sometimes simple works and that can make for an entertaining film without being overly complicated. Once Neeson goes to turn himself in, everything goes up in the air and the film launches into a tense, continuously amped up thriller that manages to remain low key but still gripping and surprising. Nothing is grand or outrageously wild but the gravitas and emotional weight of Neeson’s story and performance carry the heart and weight of the film effortlessly.
It was a cat and mouse game juggling different lives and characters; constantly keeping you guessing when the other shoe will drop and how it will play out. The chemistry with the FBI agents felt natural, chaotic, and understandable; they played off each other and Neeson well. Though some characters (and most of the people who’ve seen the film) trivialize the aspect of someone turning their lives around for love, I found this to be a very sweet and simple, honest, and effective motivator for the events that played out. I’m genuinely pleased to see people still acknowledging that love is not a cliché but a meaningful component of our lives and stories. Kate Walsh was adorable and I loved her onscreen, my biggest problem comes from her romance with Neeson felt rushed and I don’t feel she or Robert Patrick got enough respectable screen time.
Overall, “Honest Thief” was a pleasant surprise I was happy to be blindsided by. A lot of how it plays out is by the numbers and certain areas get rushed where they should have taken their time, but the quality of the tension, action, and pace kept the movie from being anything but boring. Neeson kills it as always; never delivers a bad performance, Courtney makes a great villain and the simple but sweet story works just enough to make this an enjoyable experience despite the bumps along the way.