Amazon Prime

Honest Thief

12/05/21

Amazon Prime

A Liam Neeson thriller is, by usual standards, an all too familiar commodity. We know what to expect, don’t we? Big Liam will play a nice, easygoing sort of feller who is calm and controlled until somebody causes harm to his wife/daughter/grandma/kitten (tick as appropriate), whereupon he calls upon the various talents he’s learned in his past – lock-picking/mountain climbing/paragliding (tick as appropriate) to exact a brutal and wince-inducing revenge upon those who have angered him.

Blood flows, teeth fly in many directions and the end credits roll. Job done.

To give Honest Thief all due credit, it does its level best to vary up the established formula, offering more nuance and characterisation than we’ve seen in previous efforts. Here, Big Liam plays Tom Dolan, the ‘honest thief’ of the title. Better known as the ‘in and out bandit’ (a monicker he loathes) he’s been responsible for robbing a whole string of banks over the past six years and has amassed a fortune of nine million dollars, which he keeps tucked away in a storage facility. But his life changes when he meets Annie Wilkins (Kate Walsh) and it isn’t too long before he’s pledged his adoration and asked her to marry him. However, those ill-gotten gains don’t sit too comfortably with his plans for the future, so he determines to approach the FBI and offer them a deal – he’ll return all the money – that’s right, he hasn’t spent a penny of it – in return for a lighter sentence with visiting rights. In just a year or so, he and Annie can be together as man and wife. Lovely.

But, of course, the prospect of being handed a cool nine million bucks in a cardboard box is enough to tempt even an FBI agent into straying off the path of law and order – and how easy would it be to simply pin all the blame on Tom, who isn’t denying the fact that he stole the money in the first place? Therein lies the rub.

For the film’s first half, there’s barely a glimpse of the Big Liam of old. Tom’s relationship with Annie is actually rather charming and there’s also a measured performance by Jeffrey Donovan as FBI agent Sean Meyers, a man whose recent marital breakup has caused him to reassess his life. He’s also accompanied by a ridiculously cute dog. Jai Courtney and Anthony Ramos are two junior FBI men, who are tempted by the prospect of easy millions and who are prepared to go to any lengths to achieve their objective.

In the second half, we’re back in more generic territory, as somebody is foolish enough to harm Annie and Tom calls upon his talents (as an accomplished thief) to bring down the necessary retribution – but even here, the shootings, beatings and explosions are reined back to a respectable level and the various plot twists are ingenious enough to keep me thoroughly entertained.

This was never going to be a cinematic masterpiece, but as a slice of solid, fast-paced action, it’ll do nicely until the next one comes along.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

I Care a Lot

21/02/21

Amazon Prime

The ‘carer’ in this story is Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike), a woman who – it soon becomes clear – cares only for herself and her lover, Fran (Eliza Gonzalez). Exploiting the law by bribing doctors, Marla has become adept at identifying vulnerable elderly people and getting herself appointed as their legal guardian, whereupon she is free to exploit them for her own profit. She gleefully sells off their homes, their possessions, the little treasures they have accumulated over the years, paying herself a healthy wage from the proceeds and siphoning off whatever she thinks she can get away with.

If it all seems a bit far-fetched, think again. In America, such shenanigans are perfectly permissible and writer/director J Blakeson has no hesitation in pointing up the iniquities of the system.

Marla sets her sights on her latest victim: rich loner, Jennifer Paterson (Dianne Wiest). Before Jennifer quite knows what’s happening to her, she is drugged up and incarcerated in a care home. It’s at this point that Marla realises she may have bitten off more than she can chew. The records state that Jennifer has no kin, but it turns out she actually has a secret son, Roman (Peter Dinklage), a man who – though small in stature – is a powerful and ruthless criminal, who will stop at nothing to get his beloved momma back.

I Care a Lot has a great deal going for it, not least what could be a career-best performance from Pike, whose portrayal of Marla is extraordinary. She paints her as a venomous, heartless machine, able to mask her raging avarice behind a dazzling smile and a haircut of such precision it looks like it’s been achieved using a set square. Wiest is pretty good too, but she’s criminally under-used here, which is a shame, because she has been gifted with the film’s finest one-liner. And Dinklage also convinces as a ruthless mafioso, a man you really don’t want to get on the wrong side of.

The main problem for me however, is that there’s really nobody in this story to root for, since every character I’m introduced to is as venal and self-centred as the last. Even Jennifer isn’t the innocent she at first appears to be. It really says something when the people on the right side of the law are even viler than those who are openly flouting it, but it’s not enough for me. I find myself wanting a character – just one – that I can actually relate to.

The film’s middle section boils down to a series of complicated tussles between Marla and Roman, both of them intent on beating the other at all costs. Though these scenes are cleverly staged, they are somehow less interesting than the film’s central tenet. However, just when I think it’s all going off the rails, Blakeson manages to snatch everything back with a conclusion that comes swaggering in out of left field and actually leaves me gasping. I really don’t see it coming.

I Care a Lot isn’t perfect, but when it’s good, it’s very good and – for the best part of its nearly two hours’ running time – it does manage to keep me glued to the screen. It also makes me rage with anger at what can happen to elderly people locked up in the moral maze of the American health care system.

4 stars

Philip Caveney