We all know that Liam Neeson has “a very particular set of skills” and in “Honest Thief” from director Mark Williams (“Ozark”), they include robbing banks, taking down crooked FBI agents and breaking hearts.
Over the last 12 years, Neeson has become proficient at dispensing justice by playing different characters that all seem to carry Bryan Mills’ DNA. Here, the actor plays Tom Carter, an ex-Marine who uses his military training to blow safes and make after-hours withdrawals. All of that changes when he meets Annie (Kate Walsh) and decides to go legit. The affairs of the heart drive this thriller filled with plenty of shootouts, fight scenes and explosions to satisfy adrenaline junkies.
For almost a decade, Tom Carter (Neeson) aka the “In & Out Bandit” has been able to elude the Feds and get away clean with $9 million in cash. His M.O., small banks, older vaults, and holidays; he goes in after-hours, uses the three-day weekend for extra time, extracts the cash, and leaves without a trace.
The story by Williams and Steve Allrich explains why Carter deciding to start pulling heists and while you can’t condone his actions, you can see why he felt justified. Neeson isn’t playing the typical bank robber looking to get rich. In fact, he hasn’t spent a dime of the loot. The cash is stowed away in a storage building managed by Annie (Walsh), a divorcee who’s working on her master’s degree.
A year goes by after a flirtatious first encounter and now Tom and Annie are a happy couple. She’s still clueless about his criminal past and he wants to come clean before taking their relationship to the next level.
Tom calls the local Boston FBI Headquarters to offer them a deal. He confesses to being the In & Out Bandit, returns all the money, and in exchange the Feds give him a reduced sentence in a minimum-security prison with visitation rights — he’s hoping that Annie will stick around and wait for him to get released — but first, he needs to prove that he’s the real bandit.
The cast features Robert Patrick as Agent Sam Baker, the bureau chief who assigns Agent Nivens (Jai Courtney) and his partner Agent Hall (Anthony Ramos) to the case. The two check out Carter’s story, and when they realize he’s telling the truth, the agents go rogue and steal the money while framing Carter for murder. Yes, this is the point where Neeson whips out his cellphone and warns the agents “I’m coming for you.”
Neeson is not the first actor to play a thief who goes straight after falling for a woman. But the 68-year old actor and 53-year old Walsh are a good fit. The two previously worked together in 2017’s “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House” — they have good chemistry and their performances bring a fresh approach to the genre. You can tell their characters are a good match after Annie gets into her own scuffle with Agent Nivens and then later in the film when Carter blows up an agent’s home, she seems duly impressed. Ah, true love.
Courtney is the film’s villain. He’s the one who comes up with the scheme to steal the money (which really is a lamebrain idea) and forces Hall to go along. Ramos (“A Star is Born,” “Hamilton”) puts in another solid performance, showing his versatility as an actor, as his character’s morals cause conflict with his actions. He’s a new father and a good man who just made a bad decision.
The film also features a really good performance by Jeffrey Donovan as Agent Meyers who takes over the investigation and becomes the middleman between Carter and the crooked agents. He has to figure out who’s telling the truth while grieving over the loss of his partner and while going through a divorce. She got the house; he got the dog. It’s refreshing to see the soft-spoken Donovan play the role of an intelligent and cautious character who makes all the right choices instead of a bitter, over-the-top, officer hell-bent on getting revenge for his partner’s death.
“Honest Thief” isn’t groundbreaking but it is gratifying to see Neeson play the antihero whose actions are based on the feelings he has for Walsh. It’s a love story first and foremost and while there are plenty of exhilarating action scenes, Neeson plays them age-appropriate. He’s not a 60-year-old guy prancing around like he’s in his 30s. The plot, especially the crooked agents’ bad scheme, doesn’t always add up but overall, I enjoyed the film. Plus, how many more times will we get to see Neeson in these kinds of roles?