Film Review – Retribution starring Liam Neeson


Retribution starring Liam Neeson

Liam Neeson and Embeth Davidtz in Retribution
Liam Neeson and Embeth Davidtz in Retribution

Liam Neeson shines in Retribution

Retribution would have to be the easiest acting gig Liam Neeson has ever had – he spends almost the entire 90 minutes of the fast-paced action film in the driver’s seat of a car (a Mercedes SUV to be precise, in unmistaken and repetitive product placement). 

Neeson is eminently watchable in this flick

While there’s plenty to fault in this flick – which at times feels more like a climactic final episode of a series you haven’t seen – Neeson makes eminently watchable as he does with everything. 

Set in modern day Berlin, Neeson plays Matt Turner, a smooth-talking financier for a global firm run by his boss Anders Muller (played with sinister smugness by Matthew Modine). The plot, thin and functional, begins with a phone call between the two men, where Anders asks Matt to get a client over the line for some big money deal. 

Matthew Modine in Retribution
Matthew Modine in Retribution

What proceeds sets up the rest of the 86 minutes. Matt arrogantly assumes given the burden of the phone call that his wife Heather will dutifully take their two children – teen Zac and tween Emily – to school. Hilarious – to her and the audience – that in 2023 that this would be the assumption of any husband who expected to make it alive out of the house that morning.  

That being said, Matt begrudgingly agrees to drive the kids to school while his wife attends an urgent meeting (which we later discover is something entirely different to what she initially lets on).

Retribution plot

A short time into the journey, with the incessant bickering between the two kids as the background track, Matt hears a phone ring … which – gasp – isn’t his. Finding it lodged inside the console, he answers and an unknown man with a distorted voice reveals there is a bomb underneath the seat, which will detonate if he tries to get help or exits the car. Matt checks by taking a photo, and discovers there is, indeed, an elaborate, ticking bomb underneath his seat. 

The squabbling in the backseat continues – to the point where you almost hope the bomb does go off – while the camera tightly frames Neeson’s well-practiced “panicked dad” face as he considers a way out before telling his kids the truth. 

Lilly Aspell and Jack Champion in Retribution
Lilly Aspell and Jack Champion in Retribution

They drive aimlessly around the streets of Berlin, awaiting further instructions. The tension and pacing for what is essentially one setting – the interior of a car – is skilfully done and keeps the audience engaged. But it’s not until they are instructed to park near one of Matt’s clients – also trapped in a car containing a bomb – that the stakes dial up a notch. 

The client Sulvain (Arian Moayed, who played Stewy in Succession) is sitting inside the car with a hysterical girlfriend who he is battling to keep in the car. Without giving too much away, this does not end well. And with it, Matt and his kids unequivocally know the bomber means business.

During cuts to news reports played on the car radio and various devices, we see that there have been other car bomb explosions that morning and Europol’s main suspect is named as Matt. Cleverly, the caller leaves no trace of his existence enabling all police leads to point to Matt. 

It emerges that the bomber and the threats relate to Matt’s job and company, and a plan he was unwittingly part of to steal millions from clients by stashing money in an offshore account. 

A modern day ‘Speed’

To give anymore away would ruin the thriller and with a one track plot and setting, all you really have to look forward are the surprises. 

Noma Dumezweni in Retribution
Noma Dumezweni in Retribution

In short, this is a modern day version of the 1994 hit Speed, which launched the career of Sandra Bullock and is based on the 2015 Spanish film El desconocido. 

Retribution is a short, sharp, fast flick that, like all of his action movies and characters, Liam Neeson saves the day. 

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