A Family Survival Thrill Ride
Based on a Spanish film, El Desconocido, translated into English as The Stranger, the film Retribution takes the original’s core theme of a man facing the consequences for his shady dealings and transforms it into a gripping tale of an innocent man fighting to protect his family. In the film, Liam Neeson takes on the role of Matt Turner, a successful banker and family man who grapples with the challenges of being a parent in today’s modern (low) attention society, with a large number of screens in the world (a representation of how distant and closed off the family is from another). Unlike his previous roles as a devoted father, Liam Neeson takes on a character grappling with being involved in his family’s life.
Living in a luxurious glass house in Berlin with his wife and two children, Matt’s authority as a father is undermined by the changing roles of his business and the changing relationships he has with his wife and children in the landscape around him. His lack of control and inability to establish his authority in the house is quite the challenge involving his daughter, Emily, and son, Zach. The film paints a picture of a man who, despite his high-powered career, is increasingly irrelevant and ineffectual in his own household.
The story starts out with a typical interaction between a somewhat aloof father (in terms of home life, not knowing about his wife’s day-to-day activities, his daughter’s soccer matches, or his son’s girlfriend) as he attempts to be more helpful by driving his kids for the first time. One takes a dramatic turn when Matt receives a chilling phone call while taking his children to school in his Mercedes SUV. The voice on the other end informs him that there is a bomb planted in his car, specifically under the driver’s seat. Matt is instructed to follow the caller’s every command or the bomb will detonate. The stakes are high, as the caller has already demonstrated their seriousness by similarly killing another executive.
Matt is left grappling with questions about who is behind it, why he was targeted, and how to get his family out of this situation. The answers unfold throughout the thrilling and satisfying 90-minute ride. The film cleverly guides Neeson’s character through the perilous situation, keeping audiences on the edge of their seats, with the audience almost feeling like a passenger in the car with the family.
As the film unfolds, the audience is left questioning the motivations of the mysterious bomber and what Matt could have done to deserve such a terrifying ordeal. The tension builds as Matt is coerced into making phone calls to his distant wife, business associates, and even a Europol investigator while desperately trying to keep his family safe and sound from the bomb being detonated by the villain with a mysterious voice.
Neeson, known for his harsh and gritty characters, is forced to embrace vulnerability in Retribution. Matt’s world crumbles around him, so he must balance compliance with the villain and survival. The film showcases Neeson’s acting range, portraying a man desperate to protect his loved ones, even if it means sacrificing his principles.
While the film initially captivates with its suspenseful setup and questions, it eventually veers into more familiar territory for Neeson – an action-packed sequence of events. The story may remind the audience of past films, such as Speed.
Ultimately, the true triumph for Matt lies not in defeating his enemies but in finding his strength in his responsibilities and showing his care and love for his family as a father and husband.
Liam Neeson’s action movies have a bit of a cult following ever since the release of Taken (2008). Retribution is the best Neeson action movie performance since Commuter (2018)
As is customary, our hero begins as an underdog, undervalued by his loved ones. He finds himself pitted against an unseen enemy and wrongly accused by the police. And, of course, someone makes the grave mistake of provoking his anger. It’s classic Neeson and what carries the film forward. Other notable performances in the movie are from actress Noma Dumezweni as a Europol agent who leads efforts into the investigations into the deaths of bankers via bombings. Dumezweni brings a calming presence amidst the danger presented within the plot. Lily Aspell and Jack Champion respectively play Emily Turner and Zack Turner along the car ride and interact well as siblings who quarrel a lot yet still clearly care for each other. Neeson portrays Matt, a former successful financial adviser whose life takes a downturn. His clients have suffered significant investment losses, and his family is falling apart. His neglected wife is considering divorce, and his teenage son treats him with disdain. Only his little daughter seems to still hold some affection for him. In this film, Neeson shows the amount of range he has as an actor, with the ability to jump from someone who appears as aloof in the first few scenes of the film, to one not afraid to take control to protect others.
Retribution offers a familiar feel to previous Neeson films, with a few notable character changes in the type of character Neeson portrays, showcasing a different side of Neeson. He’s not the typical tough guy with a violent past but a dedicated family man overwhelmed by circumstances that he seemingly could be one’s neighbor. Another notable image in the film’s first part is the preponderance of screens; everyone is on their screen (from the daughter watching TV on a tablet, the son and daughter buried in their phones, and Matt Turner constantly checking his phone for messages from work colleagues. The audience witnesses his fear and desperation as he tries to hold himself together. With much of the action of the film taking place in a car driving across the stress of Berlin, Germany, the sudden terror from those inside the car and those outside the car is reminiscent of the film Speed (1996).
In conclusion, Retribution is an action-packed film that takes place mainly on the streets of Berlin. The film offers enough freshness to leave a lasting impact in comparison to other films in Neeson’s filmography. Transforming into an unstoppable force hellbent on protecting his family at all costs when the rage sets in when the villain crosses the line. Once the situation reaches a point where it is clear those around are threatened and following the villain’s orders and directions won’t save his family, his character transitions from aloof and frightened to focused and enraged.
While Neeson’s recent action flicks may have been primarily for his fans of a particular film style that he frequently is a part of, Retribution is one to captivate a wider audience. It combines the thrilling elements fans love with a compelling story that appeals to everyone.
Retribution (2023) Official Lionsgate Trailer