August 25th, 2023




You have to scroll all the way back to 2008 when the action career of Liam Neeson took hold in Taken. The legendary Irish actor, nominated for an Oscar in Schindler’s List, and a hulking presence no matter what genre he’s in, has become the leader of grouchy-dad-flicks. In those 15 years after Taken, we have seen him as a hero on a plane in Non-Stop, fighting bad guys on a train in The Commuter, acting as a protector at the Southern border in The Marksman, or even battling in the snowy terrain in The Ice Road. At this point, he is “Sam I Am”. He will fight you on a boat, or on a plane, or in a truck, or in the rain. His newest adventure- Retribution– has taken an approach similar to Speed; He is a father of two, driving his children to school, and discovers that his seat has been rigged with an explosive device. Any attempt to get out will result in death but Retribution is so mundane and preposterous that you will want to leave your seat before any bombs begin to go off.

Our lead character is Matt Turner (Neeson), a wealthy bank executive, living in Germany with two kids Zach (Jack Champion) and Emily (Lilly Aspell), and his wife Michelle (Embeth Davidtz). His job consists of telling investors to keep faith in him and the company– no matter how much money they lose. It starts as another day. The kids eat breakfast, get ready for school, bicker at one another, husband and wife kiss, and they get on the way. Dad has a quick conversation with Zach about recent teenage angst, sending his son off in a huff, and the three of them eventually get into the car. Soon a mysterious phone rings, Matt picks it up to discover a voice telling him there is a bomb in the car and if he calls the police or anyone gets out of the car, it will blow them all to smithereens.

This is a remake of the 2015 Spanish film of the same title, which I have not seen, but what is evident here is that director Nimród Antal found it a good fit for Neeson. Unfortunately, it is lacking in about everything that a typical Neeson vehicle would offer. Not enough action, little intrigue, and a concept stretched incredibly thin. And speaking of vehicles, almost ninety percent of Retribution looks like a high-end car commercial, where we grasp the complete luxury of Turner’s Mercedes Benz, but fail to ever feel the pressure of his actual situation.

By the standards of Neeson movies, Retribution is neither at the bottom of the barrel nor at the top. His recent films, Blacklight and Memory fall below this one, where at least the concept alone can keep our interest. That doesn’t give it a pass narratively, where Neeson is strapped to his surroundings, while his co-stars Davidtz, Matthew Modine as a co-worker who becomes wrapped into the situation, and Noma Dumezweni as a police chief, offer zero help outside the car. Where most Neeson films can lean back on the action, Retribution fails at turning up the tension and gives off no release.

What becomes the most depressing is that this kind of movie typically works for me. I’m appreciative that Neeson continues to make films that were standard in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. He channels the energy of a Steve McQueen but unfortunately, Retribution lacks the direction and style that typically elevates the material. I’m not saying that Liam Neeson needs to stop making movies like this. Maybe he takes a break. Either way, sitting at the theater to watch Retribution, that’s just as much of a hostage situation.


1 1/2 STARS

Written by: Leo Brady

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