An Ecstasy of Plot Contrivances: Honest Thief (2020)

honest1Honest Tom Dolan (Liam Neeson) has a secret life as a notorious bank robber (“the In and Out Bandit”) who through the love a good woman (Annie Wilkins, played by Kate Walsh) decides to do the right thing by Annie, assuage his conscience and turn himself in. Two FBI Agents who think he’s a fruitcake aren’t convinced, so Tom hands them the keys to his storage where he tells them they will find boxes of money from his robberies. They don’t take Tom with them, so that they could arrest him upon finding the ‘proof’ of Tom’s story, or if there is no money and Tom’s proven a hoaxer then charge him with wasting their time, BECAUSE. 

Well, because they are going to steal the money for themselves.

Later, having been double-crossed by the two FBI agents who have subsequently framed him for the murder of another, Tom gets Annie on a Greyhound bus to get her to safety out of town. He sees her get on the bus but walks away before it drives off, BECAUSE.

Well, because Annie is going to get off the bus and go back to her storage locker business as she’s remembered CCTV footage of the FBI agents stealing away with Tom’s money will be on a memory stick there. While she’s there the two FBI agents, looking for the same memory stick to destroy proof of their guilt, find her and the chief bad ‘un, Agent Nivens (Jai Courtney) beats her within an inch of her life, but runs away without completing the deed BECAUSE.

Well, because Tom has to be a hero and get her to hospital before she bleeds out or something. And then he has to get her out of said hospital BECAUSE.

Well, because she’s obviously still in danger from the bad agents who still have to silence her, so she’s got to be rescued from the hospital by Tom, who is on his own vengeance trip at this point (because its a Liam Neeson movie and vengeance is written into every script by contract). Agent Nivens goes to the hospital to finish her off but finds a good FBI agent in Annie’s room, protecting her, and he storms off, snarling (we know the good FBI agent is a good guy because he’s got a cute dog and every dog-owner’s a Good Guy). Hospital security isn’t a thing though, so when Tom arrives a little later he walks straight in, finds her room with his bank-robber’s sixth sense* and luckily Annie is in there no longer under guard BECAUSE. 

Well, because the good FBI agent has to go and walk his dog because Tom has to save her, silly, so he simply walks out of there with her and puts her in a bed in a nearby hotel and she heals pretty quick BECAUSE. 

Well, because she ‘s the love interest and the film isn’t over yet, so she’s up and about by morning, having a) been miraculously healed by Tom’s nursing and b) watched Tom fabricate some bombs as part of his revenge for being wronged by the dastardly Feds and its all something to do with his military service and his dad who died while rich guys got richer which is why he robbed the banks in the first place, because that where the rich guy’s money was being kept and…

Tom is some kind of Bank-Robbing Rambo (movies are proof that military service really sets people up for civilian life) and he knows where Agent Niven lives so wires it up with bombs whilst Niven is sleeping and… he lets Niven get out before blowing the shit out of his big house (in which thankfully no-else was living BECAUSE well that would make Honest Tom a murderer) and none of the neighbours comes out to witness the conflagration BECAUSE.

Well, because its a pretty bad and obvious CGI shot and the house is really just fine it never blew up and I’ve just broken the fourth wall here. 

Ah its a Liam Neeson film. Do these things even have fourth walls anymore?

*Bank robber’s sixth sense allows for said robber to guess the exact colour and shade of paint inside the abandoned retail outlets next door to his bank targets, so that after he has robbed the bank by tunnelling from the retail outlets he can redecorate said retail outlets so no-one would ever guess how he got in and out of the bank BECAUSE.

Well, because he’s the “In and Out Bandit” who was never caught until he gave himself in for the love a good woman. 

Honest Thief, should you hate yourself enough that you want to watch it, is currently showing on Amazon Prime.

Hotel Mumbai

Hotel MumbaiHotel Mumbai is a very harrowing, suspenseful dramatisation of the 2008 attack on the city’s Taj Mahal Palace Hotel during which the city was attacked by a ten-strong group of heavily armed Islamic terrorists. Its riveting stuff- as a thriller its effective indeed, and its very similarity to Gerard Butler’s Olympus Has Fallen etc makes uncomfortable viewing as we know, as disturbing as things are, this time around its based on true events. Tragedy as entertainment always has an uncomfortable feeling about it, but it makes everything seem more intense, too. The comic book heroics of Butler’s films, and others like it (I suppose, after all, you’d possibly include ‘classics’ like Die Hard in that list) have to be stripped out because these are just normal people in unusual situations and really, in the real world there’s no place for wisecracks or fisticuffs in the face of grenades and assault rifles.

So we have this weird dichotomy going on, in that as the outrage progresses, we have the misguided expectation that Armie Hammer’s tall handsome American architect or Jason Isaac’s obnoxious Russian with a military background will step up with some heroics like a typical thriller would have it, but as this film is based on a true event and such Hollywood nonsense never happened, there is a weird frustration through the film. The heroism of this film is of a different kind entirely- its one of simply surviving, and mostly of the staff protecting its guests. Perhaps you could call it civilisation versus barbarism. Perhaps we have been so used to those Hollywood action films where Willis, Butler or Neeson step up with their own brand of justice to right the violent wrongs that we struggle with their absence.

I suppose my point is, this film should possibly be a horror film, and this films only failure, really, is that its indeed ostensibly a thriller. Mans inhumanity to man is always a depressing subject but what I found most distressing was the familiarity of it all. Terrorist incidents such as this frequently seem to be in the news – bombings in foreign countries, shootings etc in which the victims almost inevitably become just numbers, statistics, and we’ve seen films simplify such events in action-thrillers of the past.

Partly this itself becomes a problem for the film- the statistics of this attack are incomprehensible, really. Over the three days that the event lasted, 174 people died, including 9 of the 10 attackers, and over 300 people were wounded. To its credit, the film shy’s away from sensationalising the events and attempts to show the simple heroism of staff trying to protect the hotels guests and those guests trying to survive and protect their loved ones. Its a human story but inevitably because of the numbers involved the film is limited to showing events from the perspective of the few, and possibly over-simplifies things.

hotel3I suppose my issue with this film -that perhaps it is ‘only’ a thriller is wholly unfair. But the polarisation of the world today, of good and evil and the fevered hysterics of both national and international politics of our day… this week alone in the UK we have witnessed our Parliament reduced to heated arguments more suited to a drunken rabble in a pub than the distinguished statesmen those elected representatives should be. I hold modern news media to blame for this (personality politics is a very modern 24-hour news thing, as journalists turn news into entertainment with viewing figures in mind) as much as social media. My contention is that perhaps film should do more than just dramatise events such as this, perhaps it should add some commentary somehow. How you do this without inflaming peoples viewpoints or world-beliefs I don’t know- maybe you can’t, hence my consideration that my issue is likely unfair.

So the terrorists are monsters, and the film only makes a perfunctory attempt to get into their reasoning, their mindset. The film suggests that they are victims themselves, coerced into the carnage by shadowy figures back in Pakistan who have masterminded the attack.  The awful inhumanity of killing innocent civilians, and how the terrorists have justified it in their minds so those civilians are perceived as infidels and indeed as sub-human, is something too large for a thriller such as this to encompass really. Maybe no film could. The fascination in films about serial-killers for example, is partly that ‘thing’ about getting into their minds, how they reason, function, see other people as victims/prey. How do you get into the minds of terrorists without being charged with rationalising their atrocities?  And if you don’t try, isn’t that over-simplification demonising them? Failing to get to the reasons why the world is as polarised as it is? Is it East vs West, Poor vs. Rich, is it national power-brokering or religious jihad?

Hotel Mumbai necessarily skirts around such issues as it just presents what happened within the perimeters of a thriller. It doesn’t make it a bad film, but it does leave it a strangely frustrating, albeit riveting film that likely could have been something more.

Blood Father

Chew on this you drug-pushing scum

blood1Hey, Mel Gibson’s back. Well, of course he is, I’m sure plenty of you have seen him in other stuff recently (didn’t he make some comedies?) since he upset people shouting his mouth off in the ‘real world’ about things he shouldn’t have, but this here must be the first thing I’ve seen him in since Edge of Darkness in 2010- no, wait, he was in The Expendables 3, wasn’t he (good grief I’d almost mercifully forgotten that). So anyway, for me its been awhile (my favourite Mel film is Payback, I think, although Braveheart is unabashedly daft fun).

And what do you know, Blood Father turned out pretty good, in a sort of check your brain at the door, soak up the action, kind of way, when I’d expected some pretty dismal, straight-to-video stuff from the premise. Its b-movie, but classy b-movie, I suppose, if that’s even a thing.

Mel is Link, ex-con and recovering alcoholic, running a tattoo business in a trashy trailer melting in the desert sun in a god-forsaken middle of nowhere, when suddenly his long-lost daughter, Lydia (Erin Moriarty, the weak link (sic) of the film), from an earlier failed marriage rings him begging for help, having gotten mixed up with the wrong sort of drug-dealing scum. Well, you can guess where this thing is going, I suppose Liam Neeson must have been busy. Link drives off to rescue her and gets her back to his trailer, but she’s not being 100% honest with her long-lost dad because she’s being hunted down by pissed off drug-runners/dealers/bandits and a super-assassin too. And they soon come calling.

But Link is pretty bad-ass himself, and while he’d prefer to maintain his quiet life and ‘enjoy’ his parole, long-lost daughters in trouble come first. So of course it’s not long until all hell breaks loose.

To be honest, Mel dominates this film, carrying it all by himself, indeed in spite of Moriarty, who is a) too pretty and b) not in the slightest bit convincing, as his daughter. Her casting and indeed her character is all some kind of bizarre throwback to a 1980s movie starring that Seagull sorry Seagal fella – it’s like the last thirty years never happened. Physically Mel is pretty formidable, all bulked up and craggy and rough and yes, quite a convincing action figure for a guy who turned sixty when this came out, but it’s the performance that counts, almost demanding the camera’s sole attention in every scene he’s in- shades of Lethal Weapon etc.  Its a suggestion he may yet have great, even career-best things ahead of him yet.

Its pretty formulaic otherwise , but there’s a pretty impressive cast shuffled in behind Mel (William H Macy, Michael Parks) and there’s plenty of action to hold attention between the talky bits and Moriarty, bless her, trying to derail the enterprise with every scene she’s lost in.