"Retribution" stars Liam Neeson, Noma Dumezweni, Lilly Aspell, Jack Champion, Embeth Davidtz, Matthew Modine, and Arian Moayed. Released on August 25, 2023, the film has a financier confronting a mysterious bomber.
The film is directed by Nimród Antal, who also directed films such as "Vacancy", "Armored", "Predators", and "The Whiskey Bandit". It is a remake of the 2015 Spanish film, "El desconocido" ("The Stranger"), written by Alberto Marini and directed by Dani de la Torre. With this year's summer movie season winding down, it makes sense that we deserve one last burst of thrills and suspense before we send the kids back to school. Of course, what better movie to get us in that mood than with another thriller starring Liam Neeson? Seriously, this guy is starring in more projects than me in the school plays. We've seen Neeson beat the snot out of bad guys and even fill the shoes of private detective Philip Marlowe. Now, he's tackling another big challenge of his career: confronting a bomber without leaving his vehicle. Now, where have I heard that concept before? Regardless of how I feel toward Neeson's recent films, I'm usually up to see what the actor has cooked up, and this latest action thriller is no exception. With that said, let's see if the movie packs enough late-summer thrills to keep it from exploding too early.
The film follows Matt Turner (Neeson), a bank financier and a father to two children, Emily (Aspell) and Zach (Champion). While driving the kids to school, Matt receives an anonymous call from a stranger telling him to follow his devious demands. The stranger on the phone is a bomber who threatens Matt with a bomb attached to the car seats. He reveals that if Matt and the kids attempt to leave the car or refuse to follow the caller's orders, he'll detonate the bomb with them inside. With his children's lives on the line, Matt embarks on a dangerous mission to outsmart the unknown terrorist and escape this perilous scenario.
The best way I can describe "Retribution" is that it's "Speed" but with an ordinary car instead of a bus. Also, instead of Keanu Reeves trying to outsmart the bomber, it has Liam Neeson performing a similar task as a regular financier. For those still unaware of the situation, I wasn't impressed with the actor's recent thrillers he starred in for the sake of appeal and paychecks. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the actor's presence as an action star. It's that his recent movies were highly forgettable regarding their qualities. There are a few exceptions like "Taken" and "The Commuter", but the likes of "Blacklight" and "Memory"? I was better off watching paint dry instead. That's why I didn't bother watching "Marlowe" earlier this year to avoid facing another disappointing waste of Neeson's talents.
However, I did muster up the courage to see "Retribution" since I'm fond of thrillers involving a race-against-the-clock scenario, especially in a vehicle equipped with a bomb. I'm one of the people who identifies "Speed" as the king of these types of thrillers. So, I expected it to provide the same amount of edge-of-your-seat thrills as the Keanu Reeves action classic. The "thrills" part was present in "Retribution", but I wouldn't classify them as something that'll have you clutching your armrest. I would say they're enough to make you stay in your seat in awe as you experience another disappointing dud starring Mr. Neeson. This guy still can't catch a break with these B-movie shenanigans.
To his credit, though, Neeson still retains his compelling presence regarding his performance. Instead of being a badass who puts villains in his place, he plays a father who winds himself in hot water due to his failure to keep promises. Amid the troubling scenario, we see Matt attempting to compensate for his past mistakes by protecting his kids and fixing the problem he may have caused. Also, Matt has to accomplish that while being framed for the terrorist's bombings—a classic action thriller cliche at its finest. Like my experience with Neeson's recent movies, I appreciate the actor's attempts at making "Retribution" watchable, even though his character was periodically one-note. He was fine in the role, and I want to leave it at that. As for the rest of the cast, they were also okay, including Noma Dumezweni as Angela Brickmann. Lilly Aspell and Jack Champion from "Avatar" fame were also suitable as Matt's children, who unintentionally wind up in the same situation as Matt. They provide plenty of baggage that further intensifies the character's dilemma, even though the film periodically struggles to maintain that narrative tension.
Another element that made the film slightly tolerable is the directorial style of Nimród Antal. Regarding my experience with Antal, I've only seen 2010's "Predators", and I think I watched his Metallica concert film with Dane DeHaan, "Through the Never", a decade ago. So, this makes "Retribution" my third movie from the filmmaker. For the most part, Antal didn't do too badly regarding the framework of the action scenes. He didn't rely too much on the shaky cam maneuvers and choppy editing. Instead, Antal provides wide-angle shots that are suitably attention-grabbing, thanks to Flavio Labiano's cinematography. As for the films' tension-filled sequences, there's only a couple of them that I thought were well-handled by Antal. The problem is that the story failed to take advantage of its intense concept.
"Retribution" is another movie that uses its 90-minute runtime to provide a straightforward roller coaster filled with fear and concern. I don't mind films with simplistic stories as long as the execution of their plots is interesting enough to justify their entertainment values. Action thrillers involving a life-and-death situation are no different, especially "Retribution". Regarding the concept and themes, the film had the potential to be an improvement over Neeson's previous outings. Sadly, it only managed to make a tiny upgrade in its quality, and that's it. Chris Salmanpour's screenplay unsurprisingly offers plenty of genre cliches we've seen in other action thrillers prior, but they hardly make a massive explosion in its emotional core and fundamental characters. It also didn't offer enough enticing sequences besides its car chases to live up to its promising thrills.
However, the worst offender of the screenplay was the third act. While the movie beforehand was mostly passable for its pros, its finale was where it completely derailed itself and blew up my hopes for an enjoyable thriller through and through. It's not just because of the abrupt ending that made me go, "Really". It's also because of the bomber's reveal that left me baffled. Without spoilers, the bomber's real identity didn't work for me due to the plot holes that came with it. It makes zero sense and diminishes Matt's character arc to the point where it's unsatisfying. I had to ensure I saw it correctly before explaining it in my review. That's how puzzled I was about it.
Overall, "Retribution" doesn't get the justice it deserves. It definitely had promise in its heart-pounding concept, which would've made it a solid, if not huge, comeback for Liam Neeson. However, despite some well-shot sequences, a couple of mildly intense moments, and Neeson's presence, the idea was wasted by its fundamental and lazy approach. Due to its cliched script, underwhelming thrills, simplistic characters, and a terrible third act, the film goes out with a poof instead of a bang. Regarding the actor's recent roles, It's a bit more watchable than "Blacklight" and "Memory". Unfortunately, it's still another cinematic misfire for the action star.