Liam Neeson was 56 when Taken came out in 2008, launching his vengeful vigilante phase. Twelve years on, he’s still churning out serviceable action thrillers like this one, despite that screen persona spilling over into a controversial 2019 interview. Neeson stars as Tom, the honest thief of the title, also known – much to his irritation – as the In-and-Out Bandit. Tom’s late-in-life bank-robbing spree has netted him $9m, but he decides to go straight for the love of a good woman called Annie (Kate Walsh), and that’s when the trouble starts.
Tom and Annie are just two divorcees in cosy knitwear, trying to make a go of things, but Tom’s good intentions fall foul of a pair of corrupt FBI agents, Nivens (Jai Courtney) and Hall (Anthony Ramos), who decide to take the money and frame him for murder. That means Tom must make use of whatever weapons he has at his disposal – fists, guns, explosives, cupcake delivery trucks – to get the truth out.
The corny romance plot is actually rather sweet, but Honest Thief still lacks the elegiac tone that made Robert Redford’s recent film, The Old Man & the Gun, a richer take on a similar storyline. Tom quaintly refers to Annie as “my ladyfriend” but is in every other respect indistinguishable from an action hero half his age. It seems there’s no time for reflecting on lost loves while barrelling through Boston in a hot-wired car.
In fact, this film’s real propulsive, emotional motor is nothing to do with a woman, but rather the age-old entanglement of lawman and outlaw. Tom and his pursuer, Agent Meyers (Jeffrey Donovan), are divided by circumstance yet united by the kind of unshakable integrity that lesser men – like Agents Hall and Nivens – could never begin to understand.
• Honest Thief is in cinemas from 23 October.