Liam Neeson, in his seasoned yet riveting cinematic journey since the iconic Taken in 2008, has become synonymous with the gritty, determined, family-protecting man on a mission. His forays into various avatars of the avenger archetype have been relentless – from a passenger in mid-air crises in Non-Stop, to the rugged Alaskan trucker in The Ice Road, and the poignant hitman navigating dementia in Memory. Retribution is no exception, but it brings to the fore a more modern, nuanced challenge that Neeson’s character, Matt Turner, must confront – contemporary fatherhood.
Set against the sleek backdrop of Berlin, Neeson’s Matt is not the battle-hardened operative or hitman we’re accustomed to, but rather a high-powered banker who, despite his vast resources and grandiose home, grapples with a predicament many fathers today may relate to: a generational shift in authority and respect within the family.
While the film establishes Matt’s domestic woes early on – a tween daughter and teenage son who seem to have outgrown his influence – it’s the imminent, cryptic threat from a faceless voice on a cell phone that sets the movie’s heart-racing tempo. A car, a bomb, and a mysterious agenda – the high-stakes scenario is reminiscent of pulse-pounding classics like Speed. But where Speed played on pure adrenaline, Retribution adds layers of personal vendettas, potential conspiracies, and moral reckonings.
Director Nimród Antal, working off the blueprint of the 2015 Spanish thriller El Desconocido, delivers a taut narrative that adeptly balances Matt’s familial struggles with the imminent threat of the car bomb. The film’s 90-minute runtime never feels stretched or bloated; every second pulsates with tension, with Neeson navigating his dual roles – the vulnerable father and the desperate survivalist.
One of the film’s most palpable strengths lies in Neeson’s ability to seamlessly transition between these facets of his character. Whether it’s the quiet desperation in a phone call to his wife or the resurgence of the classic Neeson combativeness when cornered by treacherous allies, his performance remains captivating throughout.
Matthew Modine as Anders, Matt’s colleague and friend, offers a commendable foil to Neeson, adding a twist to the tale that underscores the film’s central themes of trust and betrayal. Meanwhile, the familial dynamics, anchored by Embeth Davidtz’s portrayal of Heather, give depth to what could have been a straightforward action-thriller, probing deeper emotional terrains.
However, the film’s climax, culminating in a massive police blockade, marks a tonal shift that might not resonate with all. While the homage to the quintessential Neeson action sequence is undoubtedly thrilling, one might argue that a more subdued or introspective finale would have been more in line with the film’s initial promise.
In essence, Retribution goes beyond bullets and bombs. It delves into the fragility and resilience of modern masculinity, questioning and celebrating it in equal measure. As Neeson’s Matt reclaims his role as protector and patriarch, the film poignantly asserts that while societal dynamics may evolve, there will always be a place for those who stand up when the going gets tough.
Andrew Rona, Alex Heineman, Jaume Collett-Serra and Juan Sola are the producers. Lionsgate in collaboration with Roadside Attractions brings this thriller to theaters this Friday.
Distributor: Lionsgate/ Roadside Attractions
Release date: August 25, 2023
Director: Nimród Antal
Screenwriter: Christopher Salmanpour
Cast: Liam Neeson, Embeth Davidtz, Jack Champion, Lilly Aspell, Matthew Modine, Norma Dumezweni
Running time: 1 hr, 31 mins