Honest Thief may be Liam Neeson’s most redemptive role since he played Jean Valjean. It’s not that he hasn’t played the dark angel of vengeance or been a character we rooted for, but here, he’s the kind of guy who looks back over his life and realizes that he’s made several missteps and wants to make it right. Even if life doesn’t want to cooperate.
Neeson returns, as the latest incarnation of the older action hero. Here, he’s the In-and-Out Bandit, Tom Dolan, a bank robber who finds love with Annie Wilkins (Kate Walsh), a storage rental clerk studying to become a counselor. When Dolan decides to go straight, to return the $9 million he’s stolen, two rogue FBI agents (Jai Courtney and Anthony Ramos) kill another agent and steal money from Dolan. Framed for murder, Dolan and Wilkins go on the run, but while this is an elder Neeson film, he’s still playing characters who won’t give up easily.
2008’s Taken was the launching of the new Neeson, and over the last twelve years, Neeson has delivered two sequels, Non-Stop, A Walk Among Tombstones, Run All Night, The Commuter, and Cold Pursuit. Sure, he’s been doing other projects like Ordinary Love and Made in Italy, but he’s still “thriller material” as a sixty-eight-year-old. Maybe it’s the gravelly voice, the way he walks, or simply what we’ve come to understand about him. He still does enough to chew up the scenes he’s in, but there’s a bit of distraction here when it comes to the tone of The Good Thief.
Part of it is the lack of real chemistry between Courtney and Ramos; some of it is that the FBI agent in charge of the murder is Agent Sean Meyers (Jeffrey Donovan) doesn’t seem to know what tone he’s playing. The Burn Notice alum, who IS from Massachusetts, hams up a Boston accent that doesn’t always seem in play, while carting around a dog that he seems to have acquired from Meyers’ ex-wife. The tone goes from Courtney’s simmering corruption to Donovan’s wounded over-the-top fed to Neeson’s, well, Neeson.
While the story isn’t particularly new, and it follows the earmarks of the average thriller, it’s still got Neeson, and in a 2020 pandemic year where things aren’t as they should be, that’s enough.
Can a corrupted person, born out of woundedness and frustration, rise above his situation to actually be the best person he could be? There’s no way I’d count out a Neeson lead – he’s already proven over and over again to have the resilience of a champ.