The sight of Liam Neeson pummeling an unfortunate soul to protect someone he loves is not a foreign one to anyone who has paid attention to the box office in the last twelve years. Since Neeson became an unexpected action star in 2008 with the gleefully brutal Taken, audiences have kept returning to witness him adapt his money-making schtick to a different location: Taken on a plane, Taken on a train, Taken on a snow plow, etc. Some of these efforts are better than others, but it is certainly not what we would have expected from the actor who gave us such varied performances in Kinsey, Gangs of New York and Schindler’s List. In his newest film Honest Thief, the talented Irishman is less of a stone cold badass and more of a gentlemanly scoundrel in the vein of Robert Redford in The Old Man & The Gun. In the film Neeson plays Tom Carter, a talented bank robber who has successfully robbed twelve banks over an eight year period for a $9 million haul. Tom could likely live out his days without ever being apprehended, but an unexpected detour into love throws a wrench into the “honest” Tom’s plans.
When you have amassed as much tainted cash as Tom has from his exploits, you need a secure place to store it all. Enter Annie (Kate Walsh), the charming manager of a storage-unit facility and psychology grad student who is working on completing her degree. For Honest Thief to work beyond the formulaic level, you need to feel the connection between these two – a feat which the film pulls off. As good as Neeson is as the noble crook, it is Walsh who anchors this movie in the believable. Tom falls deeply in love with Annie, so much so that he cannot take the next obvious step in their relationship without owning up to his improper past. Before he can reveal his misdeeds to her, he elects to contact the FBI to confess to being the unfortunately named “In-And-Out Bandit” and hopes to broker a deal. You see, Tom has never been a thief for the money; he enjoys the thrill that comes with the possibility of being caught. Tom has never spent a penny of his $9 million dollars, and it would be swell if he could return it for a reduced sentence. Tom initially makes contact with veteran agents Baker (Robert Patrick) and Meyers (Jeffrey Donovan), but many a person has confessed to being the “Bandit” so they pass off the initial investigation onto two junior agents (Jai Courtney and Anthony Ramos).
It is about this time where the movie transitions from being a somewhat subdued character piece to a typical Neeson action vehicle. When Courtney’s Agent Nevins realizes the old man is telling the truth, greed fills his eyes in a most spectacular manner, and he brings Ramos’ hesitant Agent Hall along for the journey. The plan to take the money and kill Tom before anyone is the wiser goes sideways in a way that leaves Tom pinned with murder and on the run to both clear his name and bring the young agents to justice. As has become the norm for Neeson characters, Tom has a particular set of skills – in particular, a history with defusing bombs in the Marines. Neeson does not go too over the top with putting his body through extreme acts of violence besides an incredulous fall from a hotel room window to the street below (this is a bit hard to accept even at one story up). Jeffrey Donovan as Agent Meyers gives a solid performance as a complementary figure to Tom; Meyers appears to be on the more honest side of the spectrum but is slightly distracted by an ongoing divorce. The two are at opposite ends of the relationship spectrum, but there is an underlying kinship that offers some intrigue.
The greatest sin that this film commits is the way in which it never ceases to be formulaic. If you were to take a random guess as to how the movie plays out, I would not bet against you. The only thing giving the film a semblance of a pulse is the strong performances from the cast members. Walsh is not given much on the page, but she elevates every moment she is in the film and avoids existing only as the one note “purpose” for Tom to continue along his journey. Anthony Ramos attempts to bring some complexity to his character, but ultimately he feels wasted in his role. Everyone feels perfunctory next to Liam Neeson. Even in the most blatant of cash grabs, Neeson never phones in a performance. Neeson is haunted by the ghosts of real-life tragedy, and he brings that world-weary nature to this character that makes you feel a bit more protective of him. When Tom talks about his love for Annie, you buy into it without reservation. This does not make the movie particularly good or memorable, but it does make you appreciate the fact that Neeson cares about his craft. As satisfying as it has been to watch Neeson kick butt, it feels like the right time to retire this genre for him and give him the roles worthy of his talent.
Honest Thief comes to Blu-Ray in a stunning 1080p presentation in its 2:39.1 OAR that truly wows in high definition. The clarity throughout is truly outstanding with subtle flourishes of the locations and clothing coming through crystal clear. Color saturation is great with the moody color palette consistently represented throughout. Skin tones are natural, although a lot of exposed skin is covered in all manner of cuts and bruises. There is a lot of activity in urban environments, which provides a lot of opportunity for fine detail and a metallic sheen to pop off the screen. Black levels are pretty deep and do not fall victim to any noticeable digital noise or errors of the sort. Universal Pictures Home Entertainment has knocked this one out of the park!
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track is up to the high standards of the video quality. There is pretty consistent activity in this briskly paced film from jump, which gives ample opportunity to engage the speakers. This film is not an all-out action fest like some Neeson movies, but there are some beat downs and gunshots that pack a punch when it counts. Dialogue comes through clearly and never gets stepped on by any sound effects or the score. All of the sounds have an accurate sense of direction within the mix with noises such as footsteps moving around the speakers in compelling ways. There are moments where our protagonist shows off his expertise with bombs which allows for some good activity in the low end. This mix is extremely immersive in a way that benefits the viewing experience immensely.
There are no special features provided on this disc.
Honest Thief delivers everything you expect it to and nothing more. Neeson is in a mode that is very familiar to anyone with even a passing familiarity with his career. The film delivers some serviceable action and character moments, but the material never equals the talent of the cast members. Universal Pictures Home Entertainment has released a Blu-Ray with an excellent A/V presentation and that is it. If you like this side of Neeson, the best thing that can be said is that he does not phone in his performance.
Honest Thief is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.