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In ‘Honest Thief,’ Liam Neeson keeps it real as a bank robber letting someone steal his heart

They’re ‘broken’ people, says love interest Kate Walsh, happy to play a woman of action who’s not just ‘waiting by the phone.’

Kate Walsh and Liam Neeson plays lovers — and fighters — in “Honest Thief.”
Briarcliff Entertainment

In some of the best movies of the last decades about high-caliber professional thieves, the introduction of a possible meaningful romance suddenly complicates things for the lone-wolf criminal. For James Caan in “Thief,” it was Tuesday Weld. For Robert De Niro in “Heat,” it was Amy Brenneman. For Ben Affleck in “The Town,” it was Rebecca Hall. For Robert Redford in “The Old Man & The Gun,” it was Sissy Spacek.

For Liam Neeson in “Honest Thief,” it’s Kate Walsh.

In the film (opening Oct. 16 in theaters), Neeson plays Tom Carter, a bank robber of a certain age known as the “In-and-Out Bandit,” who has eluded the feds for years and has no intention of slowing down until he meets and falls in love with Kate Walsh’s Annie at a time when neither expected to ever have a serious relationship again. Tom wants to spend the rest of his days with Annie — and he wants to give up the game and live the clean life. I recently spoke via video chat with Neeson, who was in his home on the East Coast, and Walsh, who was in western Australia.

“I was excited to work with Liam,” said the “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice” actress. “We had worked together once before, on a film called ‘[Mark] Felt.’ I loved the action stuff in this movie and I was excited to do a fight scene — but as you said, my role wasn’t the woman waiting by the phone. It was actually this love story, and the love story was believable and redemptive. Every character in this film has a past and is broken in some way and has baggage … and then there’s this love story, almost like a first love for two people of a certain age and station in life.”

Everyone keeps talking about how Annie must be such a special woman for Tom to be willing to make certain sacrifices. Walsh laughed and said, “You hear that all the time in real life, and then someone meets the woman and says, ‘Geez, what’s so hot about her?’ A lot of times, that’s just how love is, to people from the outside: ‘What does that person have? Let me see this Mister Wonderful or Miss Wonderful.’ [Falling in love] is a little mystical, it’s a little mysterious.”

There’s a Cell Phone Moment in “Honest Thief” not unlike the Cell Phone Moments in the “Taken” movies; I asked Neeson if that was improvised or in the script.

“No, that was baked in,” he said. “Every movie now has cell phone moments. The stuff I’ve been watching during quarantine mode — every series, in every episode, a lot of people are on cell phones. That’s how the story is told, via cell phones and computer screens. So no, that particular scene wasn’t written to tap into the ‘Taken’ audiences, but I knew it was coming up and I thought, ‘Here we go again.’ ”

Neeson’s Tom has military experience and can take care of himself, but he’s not a fighting machine. One of the biggest fights in the movie sort of grinds to a halt because the combatants are simply out of breath and need a break.

“I think that’s really important,” said Neeson. “I said to my stunt coordinator, Mark [Vanselow], with whom I’ve done 24 films, ‘This isn’t Jackie Chan.’ I’m 68 years of age; I was 66 when we made ‘Honest Thief.’ Let’s see this guy getting tired, he’s not a fast runner, he’s not 33. Audiences wise up to that stuff. It’s important to root that in reality.”

Not to worry, though. Tom Carter does have a very particular set of skills — skills he has acquired over a very long career.