Another day, another Liam Neeson actioner racing to cinemas. In the wake of Taken’s outrageous success way back in 2008, Neeson appeared to be stuck doing carbon-copy rehashes of that same formula for quite some time. With Retribution, directed by genre vet Nimród Antal (2010’s Predators, Vacancy), I was afraid Neeson would again be falling into similar trappings. To my surprise, this Phone Booth meets Speed hybrid traps an absentee father in the car with his two horrified children for a pulse-pounding thriller. Lest one assume being stuck in a moving vehicle with Neeson was its own brand of torment, did we mention there is a bomb strapped to it? Rounding out the cast are up-and-comer Jack Champion (Scream VI, Avatar: The Way of Water) and adorable Lilly Aspell (Young Diana in DC’s Wonder Woman films)—to call Retribution a dysfunctional family movie would be a massive understatement.
The film starts with a literal bang as a car explosion occurs. This event then ominously plays in the background via news footage, tantalizingly teasing the future for our characters during the setup. Bank executive Matt (Neeson) is the worst kind of husband and father: the one barely present. Matt brushes off commitments, and cannot even be bothered to watch the kids for a night so that his wife, Heather (Matilda’s Miss Honey, Embeth Davidtz), can have a night out with her gal pal. Matt begrudgingly agrees to drive the kids to school for once.
The kids both seem distracted and uninterested in a relationship with their father. Zack (Champion) prepares to skip class with his new girlfriend Mila, glued to his phone in natural angsty teen mode. At least Emily (Aspell), much younger, tries to get Matt to attend school functions. Zack thinks his dad lies about anything and everything to get ahead at work. Sibling rivalry between Zack and Emily plays believable thanks to a clear chemistry between Champion, Aspell, and Neeson. A blaring unseen phone, blasting “Row Your Boat” as its ringtone, proves a momentary excitement. Matt eventually locates it in the center console—an unknown caller greets him on the other line. The second the distorted-voice baddie utters their first line, Retribution kicks into an endlessly entertaining gear that never lets its foot off the gas.
With threats that if Matt hangs up, “they’ll be picking your guts out of the trees,” the danger becomes immediate. Matt must follow every instruction, for an armed bomb lies underneath his seat just waiting to be blown to smithereens. To make matters worse, Matt is told that his kids cannot exit the car, either. A pressure plate has been situated inside, and shifting weight could fully trigger the explosion. The fact that both Zack and Emily are stuck in the car with Matt, forced in a way to rekindle their dying familial bonds, was one of the things I enjoyed the most about Retribution. Their presence ups the stakes immeasurably—surely this unseen foe wouldn’t kill kids… or would he?
Surprisingly enough, Retribution is actually the third remake of Spain’s film of the same title. I guess they really struck gold with that premise. This is, however, the first time Retribution has been brought to American cinema. Close-up shots in the car pair well with high-speed pursuits filmed in the streets of Berlin. R-rated action allows for the necessary grit and pulpy fun that I have been craving from Neeson. Eventually, a shocking twist and a total mic drop moment color Retribution as one to remember. Though I skipped many of Neeson’s more questionable titles, Retribution is definitely my favorite Liam Neeson-led movie since Taken 2.
Prepare for Retribution while trapped in a car when Neeson’s newest film hits theaters on Friday, August 25th.