Located in Berlin, Matt Turner (Liam Neeson) is a man used to putting people in the hot seat. As an executive financier at Nanite Capital, his silver tongue ensures investors keep their money where he and CEO best friend Anders Muller (Matthew Modine) want it.
Matt’s dedication to his work has brought him wealth and success but has left his family in shambles. His relationship with his wife Heather (Embeth Davidtz), is on its last legs while his son Zach (Jack Champion) and daughter Emily (Lilly Aspell) keep their faces buried in their phones, distant and growing more so. Driving his kids to school, Matt’s day is thrown into absolute chaos when he receives an anonymous phone call. The caller informs Matt that he is now the one in the hot seat as he’s currently sitting on a pressure activated bomb.
It becomes clear that this is no hoax as several similar bombs have already been detonated around Berlin. With no chance to escape, all Matt can do to save his children and himself is follow this mad man’s orders. This very personal attack grows more complicated still as the day goes on. Soon, Matt is under suspicion by Europol of causing these devastating attacks himself. As police close in, Matt is trapped in a high-speed life or death chase through the city streets.
Directed by Nimród Antal and written by Christopher Salmanpour, Retribution is a remake of 2015 Spanish thriller ‘El desconocido’ (The Stranger). A mostly single location actioner which reminds one of ‘Speed’ meets ‘Phonebooth’. Retribution’s somewhat dubious premise is elevated by Antal’s ability behind the lens but also by Neeson‘s credibility and charisma as a leading man.
I am of course, a huge fan of Liam Neeson, his action films, and it really is a rare for such a well-established dramatic actor to become an action superstar so late in their career. Neeson brings that same calibre we’ve all come to expect and despite Retribution largely consisting of scenes with Neeson on a phone, he remains a powerhouse, committing 100% to the emotion and ferocity these scenes need to keep us enthralled.
Unfortunately, many of Neeson’s latest films can suffer from shoddy editing. This is caused by attempting to film the 71-year-old as if he was an actor half that age. I was excited by the promise of this film more being built around the intensity of scenes rather than all out acrobatics and in Retribution, director Nimród Antal maintains the feeling of anxiety throughout.
Along with cinematography by Flavio Labiano, over the course of the film, the primary location of the car interior is fleshed out. Never does Retribution feel like it is an awkwardly shot movie. Instead, we spend the entire runtime right in the thick of it alongside with Matt and his children, and it is a fittingly claustrophobic experience with no escape. As Matt slowly begins to explore the extent (or limitations) of his captor’s control over his life, we cheer along with him. He’s just a regular guy in an impossible situation, figuring things out and persevering for his kid’s sake.
However, Retribution falters due to its extremely lacklustre script and dialogue. Interesting aspects of the film are set up, but are not fully paid off while characters talk in ways that seem strained or unnatural. This is definitely a movie which will have audiences thinking “Why doesn’t Matt just say…?”, which at times brings more frustration to the film’s story than actual drama and this is a pity because I adored the cosmic irony of a character who is a liar by trade fighting for his life while nobody believes him. I think more could have been done to play up the language barrier as the source of confusion, rather than the characters simply interacting in artificial ways for the sake of plot contrivance.
Despite its shortcomings, Retribution is on the stronger end of Liam Neeson’s most recent action films thanks to the versatility of the man himself, and the film’s technical cohesiveness. Retribution could have been so much more with a stronger and smarter script. But for Neeson fans such as myself, this film is still a highly entertaining and thoroughly satisfying popcorn flick.