Honest Thief (2020)

Director: Mark Williams

Running Time: 98 Minutes

Certification: 15

Starring: Liam Neeson, Kate Walsh, Jai Courtney, Jeffrey Donovan, Anthony Ramos, Robert Patrick, Jasmine Cephas Jones

Having stolen $9 million from numerous small-town banks, Tom (Liam Neeson) built a career as the In-and-Out Bandit (a moniker he dislikes). After falling in love with Annie (Kate Walsh), he wishes to turn his life around, and confesses his past misdeeds to the FBI. Unfortunately, Tom finds himself double-crossed by a pair of agents, who have greedy intentions for the stolen money.

Beginning at the tail-end of a long career, you'd expect this story to take the familiar "one last job" approach, but the screenplay, co-written by Steve Allrich and director Mark Williams, appears to go down a more interesting route. A fun dynamic is set in place between the main couple, as Annie reckons with the morality of the situation, something which Tom is more familiar with. Sadly, the screenwriters don't seem content with that, so it becomes a run of the mill feature where Liam Neeson is on the rampage.

One can feel the lead character being tailored around Neeson, and his late-career success as an action lead. Parts of Tom's backstory feel forcibly inserted, to give him a widening array of skills, but it just makes him feel like a copy of Neeson's other roles. A shame, as the quieter moments are more effective to watch. We can see the past weighing heavily on Tom, as Neeson captures his weariness, effectively portraying his desire to just be honest for the woman he loves.

When the truth comes out, you can see how shaken Annie is. She tries to wrap her head around what's she's been told, but there's no question where her loyalties lie. She's devoted to Tom, wishing to help clear his name, and Kate Walsh injects such life into the role, ensuring the bubbly persona is endearing to watch. Part of the reason their relationship works is the clear spark between our leads. From their initial meeting, you can see them warming to one-another, growing more comfortable over the smallest of exchanges. You believe they've found happiness with each other, and it's because of them we buy into the idea of Tom wanting to change who he is.

Driving Tom's journey are the antagonistic forces, in the form of dirty cops played by Anthony Ramos and Jai Courtney. The pair do what's expected in the roles, as Ramos' Agent Hall is led astray by Courtney's Agent Nivens. However, the material gives Ramos more to work with, as we see the conflicted nature of Hall, while Courtney is left with a more cartoonish role. Rounding off the cast is Jeffrey Donovan, playing their superior who's initially defined as working through a divorce, and speaking to an adorable dog.

After 2016's A Family Man, Mark Williams returns to the director's chair for his sophomore effort. Sadly, the proceedings are hindered by flat direction, with a notable lack of excitement or thrills. Key moments should feel as though the net is tightening around our characters, but it comes off as going through the motions. It takes unimaginative routes to reach the end, while characters fall into tiresome clichés, under the impression that's good enough. Most glaring is how key moments get glossed over, and we're expected to go along with it. Take one point, where Tom must escape a hospital with something valuable to him. Hanging over the scene is the question of how he'll escape without being detected, but it lazily cuts to the aftermath. It doesn't feel good enough, but that's pretty fitting, as this film doesn't feel good enough for the terrific leads.

Honest Thief is in cinemas nationwide from 23rd October