In most films starring Liam Neeson of late, we see him running towards danger in order to save his loved ones. The premise of the present film, which is an official remake of 2015 Spanish film El Desconocido, is just that. The only change is here he’s running away from danger. Or trying to, at least. Much like Speed (1994), which had a bomb strapped to a bus, Retribution has a bomb strapped under the seats of a car. The bomb is both remote controlled and is pressure controlled so no one can get away from their seats.
Liam Neeson plays Matt Turner, a businessman who is so busy cracking deals he has no time for his wife or kids. He’s forever on the phone, trying to land one deal after another. The film does start with him sparring with a punching bag like a pro but that’s about the only physical thing he does in the film. He isn’t bashing up the baddies like in his Taken franchise, sorry. His long suffering wife Heather (Embeth Davidtz) asks him to drop the kids to school and Matt, who isn’t dad of the year by a long shot, grudgingly agrees to do so. His kids – teenage son (Jack Champion) and younger daughter (Lilly Aspell) live in their own world and like most teenagers are glued to their phones. In fact, one of the most daunting tasks he has to do in the film is to convince his kids to give him their phones, which he promptly throws out of the window at the orders of the person blackmailing him on the phone.
The rest of the film involves him driving to different locations at brisk speeds, where his colleagues also get called in their cars and get blown up. Neeson is shown to be one step ahead of the competition in his Taken films but here he’s shown to be totally helpless and at the mercy of his tormentor. He plays along for the sake of his children and even agrees to syphon funds from a secret account. It’s only when the children are off the chessboard after being rescued by the police that he goes on the offensive and tries to confront the man responsible for the seat bomb and all the killings.
We’re so used to seeing Liam Neeson getting out of situations trickier than this that we’re sure he’ll get out of this one too. To be fair to the star, he doesn’t play the aggressor here but a victim who discovers that while he was running after money, he was losing his family. A crisis brings him closer to them again and perhaps that’s the real lesson of the film – that one shouldn’t be blind to the real things which define us. Neeson looks good as the concerned father here and maybe that’s a sign that the actor is ready to go back to dramatic roles. We love him in action films but we’re sure he’s capable of so much more. And don’t worry action buffs, there’s plenty of car chases and road rage mayhem to make your day. It all feels like it’s been shot in live traffic. Kudos to the cinematographer and editor for that.