by Rob DiCristino
Can we get Liam a Netflix series, or something?
I don’t know Liam Neeson personally. We’re not friends. We don’t text. I assume he’s a decent guy. He has a solid reputation among Hollywood types, anyway. Maybe he cheats on his taxes and leaves his recycling unsorted. I don’t know. What I do know is that he’s done more than enough Taken knock-offs to earn him a decade’s reprieve from the DTV Action Dad subgenre. It’s not that they’re all bad movies — Run All Night, especially, has its charms — and the odd Ballad of Buster Scruggs or Widows is usually sprinkled in-between, but the Academy Award-nominated star of Schindler’s List — who clearly only works because he wants to — should be getting better scripts than Honest Thief.
Neeson plays Tom Dolan, a bank robber better known (seriously) as The In-and-Out Bandit. He’s precise, exacting, and leaves no evidence behind. His world is turned upside-down, however, when he falls for Annie Wilkins (Kate Walsh), who believes him to be an everyday, mild-mannered safe specialist. When Annie accepts his offer to begin a new life together, Tom decides to come clean to the authorities, return the money he stole (He’s never spent a dime), serve an abbreviated prison sentence, and move on with a clear conscience. But when corrupt FBI Agents Nivens and Hall (Jai Courtney and Anthony Ramos, respectively) boost the cash, Tom must go to extreme measures to clear his name.
Again, Honest Thief is technically a movie. Co-writers Williams and Steve Allrich have definitely read screenwriting books. They definitely know that characters are supposed to have motivations, that drama needs to deepen and intensify over the course of a narrative, and that action movies should have, you know, periodic scenes in which people shoot at each other. What they’re missing is the nuance of craft that allows characters to express themselves in anything other than long, flat, expository monologues. “I am being affected by the drama in this way,” one character seems to say. “My concern is that this drama will continue to affect us,” says another. The book says, “Tell; Don’t show,” right?
Because, remember, Tom is a good man. He’s complicated, and he’s made mistakes, but that doesn’t make him a villain. He didn’t lie to Annie about being a bank robber; it was more like a sin of omission. He only robbed those banks in the first place because his dying father’s pension was stolen by a corrupt CEO while Tom was off fighting the rich man’s war. He didn’t even spend the money he stole. Nor has he ever killed anyone. Hell, he was only trying to turn himself in so he could do right by Annie. One of the core tenets (*intertwines fingers*) of a good RCM is that there is absolutely no moral ambiguity of any kind, and Honest Thief is just the nakedly-empty vessel for that particular job.