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Honest Thief

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★ ½

Honest Thief is an action film in the spirit of Taken, but with the same actor, and a similar script. When a thief decides to give back all the money that he stole in order to make reparations and rejoin society to be with the woman he loves, a couple of crooked FBI agents decide to steal the money instead, and frame him for murder. However, they don’t expect him to have a special set of skills that he will use to exact vengeance on them.

Tom (Liam Neeson) is a bank robber, known as “the in-and-out bandit,” and for his ability to rob banks and steal copious amounts of cash without hurting anyone, or getting caught. When he falls for sweet-hearted receptionist Annie (Kate Walsh) at a public storage facility, he decides that he wants to turn himself in for his crimes, offering to return all the money he has stolen in exchange for a reduced sentence so he can live the rest of his life with Annie, guilt-free. One major hurdle for their relationship is that Annie doesn’t know exactly what Tom’s past is like.

Two FBI agents show up to collect the cash and help facilitate the easy arrest of Tom. But Agent Nivens (Jai Courtney) and Agent Hall (Anthony Ramos) see an opportunity, and make the last-minute decision to steal the money for themselves, framing Tom for the murder of another FBI agent who shows up to the scene. With Tom on the run, he’s got to do whatever it takes to make everything right, trying to bring justice to the crooked FBI agents while at the same time, trying to clear his name and keep Annie out of it.

Directed and co-written by Mark Williams (Ozark, A Family Man) there’s not much that any of the humans can do to bring life to the flat characters. The thief of the title role is already honest to a fault, so Tom can’t really do much to redeem himself. In offering to give the money back, it opens the door for all kinds of new violence and mayhem to occur, involving Tom, Annie, and a host of good and bad FBI agents. There is a clear choice not to explore the emotions or guilt around creating this amount of unrest in the world, and Williams does not push his cast to deal with any discomfort, other than physical.

While there are elements of Honest Thief that are indeed honest, such as the sweet romance between Tom and Annie, or the need to do the right thing despite the consequences, there is too much that plays out antithetically: the good guys are genuinely bad people, and the bad guy is a really, genuinely good person who didn’t really even want the $9 million dollars that he spent a decade of his life stealing from 12 different banks. Even the educated, almost-college graduate receptionist that he falls for can’t think of anything cleverer to say about Tom’s past than, “knowing how to blow stuff up, that’s pretty cool.”

After watching many explosions without any emotional investment in the characters, blowing stuff up is not that cool after all. But the payoff of the entire last third of the film being one long drawn out car chase, explosion, shootout, fistfight might be the whole point of the film. Sadly, the biggest plot hole is that if Tom really didn’t care about all that money that he stole, and it was just out of principles instilled in him by his own family, then he’s sacrificing not money but his own principles for a shot at creating an honest family with his new relationship. That rings patently dishonest.

The macaroni and cheese of action movies, Honest Thief is filling comfort food that predictably serves up a dose of Liam Neeson confidently exacting revenge on some baddies. Explosives, murder, and mayhem are barely curbed by the PG-13 rating.

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Date: 17 October 2020
Author: Jules Fox

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