Top 5 Liam Neeson action thriller movies and why Honest Thief belongs on the list

With the terrific Honest Thief, Liam Neeson further tightens his steely grip on the gritty-action-thriller genre. To celebrate the Honest Thief trailer and the film’s 23 October release, we’re revisiting his five most memorable action-dad performances to date. So, give us your best Neeson death stare and let’s get cracking.


Taken (2008)

Taken plot in a sentence

When his daughter Kim is kidnapped by Albanian sex traffickers while visiting Paris, retired-field-agent- with-a-very-particular-set-of-skills, Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) heads to the most romantic city in the world to hurt a lot of people and get her back.

Why Taken kicks ass

Written by French filmmaking legend Luc Besson (Taxi, The Fifth Element), and directed with deliciously grim precision by Pierre Morel, Taken single-handedly launched Neeson’s surprising new career as a bona fide action hero at the age of 54.

While his gruffly iconic ‘I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you’ speech has all but eclipsed the film that spawned it, we heartily recommend you watch (or rewatch) Taken. Brutal, intense and thrilling, it’s a superior thriller and Neeson has rarely been better.

Liam Neeson Aggrieved Scowl Rating (LMASR)

Doting father, Mills doesn’t waste a minute I-told-you-so-ing his kidnapped daughter in her absence; he rearranges his granite-like features into what experts now call ‘resting vigilante face’ and gets to work. 14/10

Unknown (2011)

Unknown plot in a sentence

 

When Dr. Martin Harris (Neeson) awakens from a four-day, crash-induced coma to find his identity stolen and a ‘new’ Dr. Harris living his life, our baffled hero grabs a leather jacket and storms around Berlin knocking heads until things start making sense.

Why Unknown kicks ass

 

Action-hero Neeson operates best when he’s up against impossible odds and/or scrabbling to catch up with some bonkers criminal conspiracy that’s upended his hitherto regular, vanilla life as a former marine turned bank robber (Honest Thief), air marshal (Non-Stop), or insurance agent (The Commuter)... Unknown doesn’t just nail this formula – he’s a world-class biochemist this time, or is he? – it does so while throwing more red herrings into the proceedings than Billingsgate Market. It’s also directed with flair by Liam Neeson’s preferred vigilante-thriller collaborator do date, Jaume Collet-Serra, with whom he’s also worked on Non-Stop (2014), Run All Night (2015) and The Commuter (2018).

Liam Neeson Aggrieved Scowl Rating (LMASR)

 

Thanks to a bad case of river-plunge fuzzy-brain, Neeson’s scientist hero Dr. Martin Harris looks more confused than vengeful for the first half of Unknown. Thankfully, the fog lifts, freeing Neeson to really perfect his grouchy ‘why me?’ face. 6/10

Non-Stop (2014)

Non-Stop plot in a sentence

When US air marshal Bill Marks receives a text on a transatlantic flight stating that someone on the plane will die every 20 minutes until an eye-watering amount of money is paid, it’s up to him to locate the villain before panic breaks out at 40,000 feet.

Why Non-Stop kicks ass

Neeson’s second action collabo with director Jaume Collet-Serra easily outdoes Unknown’s high- concept action gambit by promising high-flying homicide every 20 minutes! With nowhere to go – and zero opportunity for car chases – Collet-Serra nonetheless manages to keep Neeson’s beleaguered air marshal (and the viewer) off-balance brilliantly with a bunch of misdirects and tension-torquing revelations. Non-Stop easily lives up to its name even if it is best watched with your critical faculties disengaged – the ‘terrorists’ aim is straight-up nuts, and what’s with the double-dip MacGuffin briefcase?

Liam Neeson Aggrieved Scowl Rating (LMASR)

Flying economy can be stressful at the best of times and for air marshal Bill Marks this is far from the best of times. No wonder Neeson adopts a ‘chewing murder hornets’ face early doors and leans into it. 8/10

The Commuter (2018)

The Commuter plot in a sentence

When a mysterious stranger offers newly fired insurance agent Michael MacCauley a stack of money to locate someone ‘who doesn’t belong’ on his evening commuter train home, little does he suspect he’s being roped into a murderous conspiracy that will endanger his fellow passengers and his family.

Why The Commuter kicks ass

While it’s not 100% inaccurate to say that, for their fourth big-screen collaboration, Liam Neeson and director Jaume Collet-Serra basically remade Non-Stop on rails, to do so would massively miss the point. After all, with their high-concept action thriller formula perfected, why mess with the magic? Neeson is great as ever playing the surprisingly capable everyman forced to unravel a shadowy conspiracy hiding in plain sight, while the confines of a packed train are exploited expertly as the stakes get higher and the final destination looms.

Liam Neeson Aggrieved Scowl Rating (LMASR)

A blizzard of mind-games, the kidnap of his family, plus the soul-crushing daily grind of sitting in a smelly train with a bunch of people who don’t want to be there either, combine to give Neeson’s Michael MacCauley a formidably sour boat race. 10/10

Cold Pursuit (2019)

Cold Pursuit plot in a sentence

When Colorado ski resort snow plough driver, Nels Coxman’s son is killed by drug dealers, dad’s simple life is turned on its head, propelling him on a beautifully ploughed trail of vengeance that starts with the cartel’s foot soldiers and works its bloody way up the ranks from there.

Why Cold Pursuit kicks ass

While it’s tempting to say ‘vengeful snowplough driver’ and drop the mic, Cold Pursuit is even better than that phrase suggests. A remake of 2014 Norwegian film Kraftidioten (which starred MCU regular Stellan Skarsgård, fact fans), Cold Pursuit is surprisingly funny for a revenge thriller. What’s more, it’s packed with a bunch of interesting characters, a few of whom even make it to the end credits in one piece.

Liam Neeson Aggrieved Scowl Rating (LMASR)

Between the drug-assisted murder of Nel’s beloved son and the biting, relentless cold, Neeson has rarely looked or acted more murderously grumpy. 15/10

And now... Honest Thief (2020)

Honest Thief plot in a sentence

When infamous bank robber Thomas Dolan finds love he tries to make amends with the authorities but gets betrayed by a greedy pair of corrupt FBI agents.

Why Honest Thief is going to kick ass

Honest Thief could scarcely be a more ‘Neesony’ action thriller if it tried. We have a tough but good- hearted man with a very particular set of skills – he’s a former Marine demolitions expert turned elusive bank robber. We have a high-stakes betrayal – Dolan’s attempt to get a reduced sentence by handing back all the money he’s stolen is thwarted when the Feds sent to bring him in steal the cash and frame him for murder. And, we have Neeson’s anti-hero, down but not out, serving his foes a party pack of ingenious vigilante justice. “Agent Nivens, I’m coming for you.” Oh, yes.

Liam Neeson Aggrieved Scowl Rating (LMASR)

It’s as if Jai Courtney and Anthony Ramos’ corrupt FBI agents haven’t seen what happens to people when they get in Action Neeson’s bad books. No wonder Dolan rapidly sets his face to ‘grim harbinger of explodey vengeance’ and gets to work. 10/10

Don’t risk getting on Action Neeson’s bad side – book your tickets to see Honest Thief now!