Review: An Actioner with Heart, Honest Thief Should’ve Just Let Neeson Do Neeson

The primary purpose of Honest Thief, the latest directing effort from Mark Williams (A Family Man, and a co-creator of Netflix’s “Ozark”), seems to be to make everyone fall in love with Liam Neeson, which is silly because everyone already loves him. Neeson plays Tom Carter, a man we are introduced to as the In and Out Bandit, whose special set of skills is not just emptying bank vaults but doing so in a way that the authorities can’t even figure out how he broke in in the first place, thus making identifying him impossible.

Honest Thief Image courtesy of Briarcliff Entertainment

After getting about $9 million from a series of small-town banks, he decides he needs a place to stash all of his loot, so he goes to a storage-locker facility managed by Annie (Kate Walsh) and he immediately falls for her. The film jumps ahead one year at this point, the two have been dating the entire time, and Tom hasn’t robbed a single bank the entire year. He wants to take things to the next level, buy them a house and get married, but he also wants to unburden himself of this big secret he’s been keeping from her by agreeing to return the money to the FBI in exchange for a light sentence. I’m not sure why simply returning the money anonymously wouldn’t have been enough, but I didn’t co-create “Ozark,” so what do I know (director Williams co-wrote the screenplay with Steve Allrich)?

Before confessing to Annie, Tom calls the FBI and gets hold of Agent Sam Baker (Robert Patrick), who apparently has gotten dozens of such confessions in the last year, and pawns off the investigation to agents Nivens (Jai Courtney) and Hall (Anthony Ramos), who show up at Tom’s hotel room, thinking he’s full of crap. But when he takes them to his storage locker and shows them boxes of cash, they realize he’s the real deal, with Nivens immediately deciding to take the money and construct a scenario that leaves Tom dead and he and his partner rich. Hall goes along hesitantly at first, but Tom reveals that he has a great deal of military training (apparently these two FBI chuckleheads have never seen a Liam Neeson movie), and things don’t go as planned, leaving Tom on the run and an FBI agent dead in the process. What follows is basically The Fugitive starring Liam Neeson, with Tom staying just far ahead enough of the corrupt agents to avoid capture but not far enough away that he can ever stop running for even a second.

Knowing that Annie’s life is now in danger, Tom tries to put her on a train out of town, but when she realizes that she has footage from the storage locker security cameras that shows the agents taking Tom’s money (only $3 million, apparently; Tom hid the rest somewhere else, just in case), she gets back into the action and is immediately hurt trying to protect Tom’s whereabouts.

Look, any movie that features Neeson beating people up and otherwise action-ing is automatically a moderate winner in my book. The man is almost 70, and he’s running around with the energy of a mountain lion chasing a jogger in Utah. He’s an inspiration, so doing anything extra to make him lovable, like putting him in a cliche relationship seems superfluous, and in the case of Honest Thief, it cheapens him when it’s attempting to emotionally deepen his character. It does not, in large part because Walsh is kind of terrible in this movie—partly because Annie is a horribly written character, partly because Walsh isn’t a strong enough performer to rise above the decidedly average material. We’ve seen Neeson action heroes be elevated by a strong romance in films like the Taken movies, but here, it weighs him down and feels worse than pointless.

Jeffrey Donovan is on hand as Agent Meyers, perhaps the only FBI character that begins to suspect something is not right with the narrative about Tom being laid out by Nivens and Hall, and he and Neeson have some solid scenes together that are just about two professionals being straight with one another and trying to bring things to a non-violent conclusion. That’s not exactly how things go down (again let me remind you, this is a Liam Neeson movie), but Neeson and Donovan have a more substantial and touching relationship than anything Tom cooks up with Annie. More disappointing than an outright failure, Honest Thief has its moments, but keeps tripping over its own heartstrings.

The film begins playing on Friday at local theaters, including the AMC River East 21 and the Landmark Century Centre Cinema. Please follow venue, state and CDC health and safety guidelines if attending indoor screenings.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.