Retribution Review | Another Generic Liam Neeson Actioner


A finance capitalist in Berlin is targeted by a mysterious car bomber as he drives his children to school. Retribution, a remake of the 2015 Spanish film El Desconocido, has Liam Neeson back to old tricks in a generic actioner. The producers behind Unknown, Non-Stop, Run All Night, and The Commuter update the primary setting to a car in a bustling metropolis. The rub is that it will explode if the protagonist attempts to get out or call for help. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce the villain. There’s reasonable tension and the film is capably acted, but the overall experience feels like a tired retread.

Matt Turner (Liam Neeson) exercises in his palatial home before starting a busy day. Anders Muller (Matthew Modine), his hedge fund partner, calls with bad news. They’ve taken serious losses and investors are getting spooked. He needs Matt to work his magic and calm down their client base. Matt’s preoccupation with work has him ignoring his wife’s pleas. Heather (Embeth Davidtz) reminds Matt that she has an important appointment. He previously agreed to take their two children to school. They argue briefly before Matt relents and agrees. The couple ignores background news of an explosion downtown.

A hurried Matt puts young Lilly (Lilly Aspell) in the backseat of his Mercedes, but gets angry when his teenage son walks off. Zach (Jack Champion) has little respect for his father. Matt yells as they drive along until Zach relents. He sits beside his sister angry and frustrated. A phone rings in the car that doesn’t belong to any of them. Zach criticizes his father for always putting work first. A confused Matt searches the front seat until he finally finds a hidden cell phone.

Effective Hostages

Retribution 2023 Studiocanal Film Still

A distorted voice tells Matt there’s a pressure-sensitive bomb under his chair. Matt hangs up immediately. He remains calm in front of his children, then uses his phone to take pictures under the chair. Matt gasps in horror when he realizes the caller wasn’t joking. The phone rings once more. The assailant warns that he’ll detonate if Matt hangs up again. Matt puts on an earpiece and begs for his children to be released. The bomber refuses. Matt must follow his instructions exactly. Non-compliance, calling for help, or any deviation will result in their deaths. Matt’s every move is somehow being tracked.

Related: Exclusive: Retribution Director Nimród Antal Praises Liam Neeson as a King of His Craft

Retribution takes a page from the classic Speed with the antagonist berating Matt to establish control. This vendetta is clearly personal. The attacker has to be someone he knows. The plot somewhat thickens when another bomb explodes to prove the antagonist is serious as a heart attack. Matt becomes a pawn in a heinous plan with many moving parts. The bomber is strategically framing him, but Matt cannot stop for the police. He needs to somehow gain control of the situation, or his children will be killed.

Director Nimród Antal (Kontroll, Predators) uses sharp editing to raise your pulse. Lots of stuff goes boom and there are car chases aplenty, but the primary action takes place inside the cabin. Antal cuts back and forth between increasingly worried expressions, then raises the stakes when body parts and shrapnel rain down like confetti. Everyone in the car is terrified but helpless. The kids are effective hostages. Antal’s focus on their frightened faces is a critical element. Any thoughts of heroism are squashed to protect them.

An Obvious Villain

2023 Retribution Liam Neeson Film

The premise veers into absurdity with Matt’s ability to elude authorities and zip around Berlin relatively unscathed. He squeezes through every tight gap, dodges hapless pedestrians, and bounces off the cops like rubber. Formula One badass Max Verstappen couldn’t pull off these stunts on his best day. Willing suspension of disbelief evaporates with Matt’s unrealistic driving prowess. There should have been more bumper cars action and less threading the needle.

Related: Best Liam Neeson Movies, Ranked

A simple plot is the film’s biggest flaw. There are only a handful of characters. Two of them are Matt’s children. It’s pretty easy to guess who’s behind the voice. Retribution could have gotten away with a stranger being the antagonist. It teases the possibility with Matt’s angry customers and the fallout from lost fortunes. But that’s quickly discounted with Matt set up as the fall guy for the bombings. There are no surprises with an obvious villain. The film takes the easy path and misses viable opportunities for a more complex narrative.

We’ve seen Neeson in similar circumstances on a plane and train. Retribution seems like a stale continuation. It’s not unwatchable. There’s decent car action, but nothing about this film stands out. A great actor needs to be in challenging roles. We’re getting more of the same from Neeson and that’s disappointing.

Retribution is a production of The Picture Company, Ombra Films, TF1 Films Production, Studio Babelsberg, and Vaca Films. It will be released theatrically on August 25th from Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate.

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