The Los Angeles Times has pledged to review new theatrical film releases during the Covid-19 pandemic. Since cinema has inherent risks during this time, readers are reminded to follow health and safety guidelines such as sketched by the CDC and local health officials. We will continue to note the various ways readers can view each new movie, including Southland drive-in theaters and VOD / streaming options when available.
Liam Neeson’s new crime film Honest Thief doesn’t feel honest.
Neeson plays Tom, a successful bank robber whose extremely precise pattern is somehow not decoded by the FBI over the years. On a long undefeated streak, Tom meets Annie (Kate Walsh, in a thankless role) and decides he should retire. We were told she was smart and funny and all that, but we didn’t really witness it. Nevertheless, to be with her, Tom tries to surrender and return the stolen millions to the FBI in exchange for a favorable sentence. Through a hard-to-swallow sequence of events, Tom finds himself on the run from dirty Feds and spends the rest of the movie trying to get his name out of the way for a murder he didn’t commit while protecting Annie. You think the bad guys can now leave those close to Liam Neesons alone. The more moderate he seems, the more specific his skills become.
Liam Neeson is a bank robber with a very specific set of skills in Honest Thief.
There are elements of Taken and The Fugitive and other films here, but what could have elevated Honest Thief above the very predictable, low-energy pack could have been elements of The Hurt Locker. The film sets an interesting backstory for Tom, involving defusing IEDs as a Navy and bitterness at seeing his father destroyed by indifferent economic forces. Thus, he knows how to blow things up and likes to stick them to the man. But the film ignores all that could mean, with a mandatory wave at the possibility of PTSD but no follow-up. He says he robs banks largely for the dose of adrenaline, but you never see that.
Sadly, Neeson and Walsh have little chemistry despite their relationship supposedly being so deep and passionate that he’s willing to go to jail for her unnecessarily. Other notable actors are wasted, including Robert Patrick, Jeffrey Donovan, and Anthony Ramos of Hamilton (beyond Ramos, he East another little nugget in there for Hamilton stans). Shelly Johnsons cinematography is coldly effective.
It’s one of those pseudo-thrillers with car chases and shootouts that are hard to get into because its rules seem fungible. The characters don’t behave the way people probably would in certain situations. FBI agents refuse to verify major crime advice by simply asking a few basic questions. An agent wields his gun like a John Woo villain, not a Quantico graduate. The characters forget that they are seriously injured. One is hospitalized with a concussion so severe that it prevents people from breathing, but the next day is off on an adventure that ends the crime. The guards are not stationed in a witness hospital room. This is the kind of movie where the protagonist asks his girlfriend to spend their life together and then says, there’s something else I have to tell you, only to be arrested with No, no, not tonight; this girl has had enough surprises for one night as she walks away, drinking a bottle of champagne.
Honest Thief could have used a reality check.
Evaluation: PG-13 for strong violence, rude references and brief strong language
Execution time: 1 hour, 39 minutes
Playing: In general version where cinemas are open
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