Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 17, 2020)
For Liam Neeson’s 900th movie as an aging but still butt-kicking tough guy, we head to 2020’s Honest Thief. When he leaves the Marines, Tom Dolan (Neeson) adopts a new career as a bank robber.
After nine years and $9 million in illicit earnings, Tom meets Annie (Kate Walsh) and immediately falls in love. Because she makes him want to be a better man, he ceases his burgling, but he doesn’t reveal his criminal history.
After a year with Annie, Tom can’t live with the guilt, and he attempts to turn himself in to the FBI in exchange for lenient terms. Because the Boston G-men hear from so many phony “In and Out Bandits”, local chief Agent Sam Baker (Robert Patrick) doesn’t believe Tom, and he sends junior Agents Nivens (Jai Courtney) and Hall (Anthony Ramos) to check out the story.
When they go to the storage unit Tom holds, Nivens and Ramos discover that he told the truth, as they locate $3 million in cash there. Nivens decides to take the money and run, a choice that leads toward a slew of violent ramifications that eventually involve a wronged – and angry – Tom.
Ever since 2009’s Taken set up Neeson as the aforementioned aging but still butt-kicking tough guy, we’ve seen a certainly level of sameness to these efforts. Neeson always plays a character with a dark past who tries to clean up his act… but he gets drawn back in!
Expect nothing about that template to change with the by-the-numbers Thief, though I admit it briefly offers some intrigue in its opening moments. Because Tom tries to turn himself in so early in the story, it catches the viewer off-guard, as we expect to see him in felonious action for more than just the tease we receive.
The fact the FBI essentially blows off Tom also adds a minor twist. This potentially leads to a fun storyline in which the criminal needs to go out of his way to convince law authorities that he’s their man.
Once Nivens and Hall arrive at that storage unit, though, Thief becomes utterly, absolutely predictable – and less than logical. Actually, it seems likely to provoke cocked eyebrows even before we see how Nivens wants to steal the money, as Tom’s confession plan appears fairly idiotic.
We learn that the In and Out Bandit did so well due to meticulous planning and execution, but Tom’s attempts to come clean show minor foresight. Because he loves Annie, he tells the FBI that he’ll turn himself in only under certain conditions, but then Tom does almost nothing to make those circumstances happen.
In other words, Tom enjoys very little room to negotiate. If Nivens didn’t get greedy, the FBI could’ve arrested Tom with ease and sent him away for life, as they never agree to Tom’s terms and he does little to protect himself.
No one else here ever seems to think past the next 10 seconds either. Thief comes with one eye-rolling plot point after another, all of which undercut any believability we might find.
Still, Thief manages passable entertainment, mainly because Neeson gives his role decent life. Yes, he plays nearly identical parts in each movie of this sort, and yes, he can seem like he goes through the motions at times.
Nonetheless, when the movie’s occasional action scenes kick in, Neeson gives them the requisite force. Though pushing 70, Neeson still makes a believable badass, and despite his tendency toward sleepwalking through parts of the film, he taps his inner anger enough to add some vivacity.
Though not enough to turn Thief into anything other than a fairly ludicrous and predictable thriller. Neeson fans will likely get enough out of the movie to make it worth their while, but it still remains a by-the-numbers flick with little new to say.