Film Review: Retribution; Disbelief suspension abounds in (another) Liam Neeson action outing

There’s something rather amusing about the fact that even though Liam Neeson has a vast career of playing everything from a Jedi master to historical figures, it’s the not-always-an-average-man-with-a-certain-set-of-skills archetype that he’s become synonymous with.  Ever since Taken proved that the then-56-year-old was a force to be reckoned with, the now 71-year-old has settled into this genre in a manner that now feels less like a career-reset and more as a cavity.

That being said, these types of Neeson actioners have their charm.  They’re often very easy to digest and occasionally they’ll surprise with their narrative direction (implausible it may be).  And both facets prove to be true for Retribution, a fast-paced, increasingly convoluted, but ultimately watchable thriller.  It falls apart the more you think about it, but its Speed-like premise manages to distractingly thrill along the way as Neeson’s Matt Turner finds himself on the wrong end of a telephone call early in the film’s proceedings.

Matt – just a regular banker and father (always a classic Neeson character staple) – lives in Berlin and, at the chagrin of his wife and two kids, prioritises his work over family.  Said wife, Heather (Embeth Davidtz), is clearly at the end of her rope in the marriage, and the kids, moody teenage son Zach (Jack Champion) and the more sprightly Emily (Lily Aspell), don’t exactly chomp at the bit when it comes to falling under his care.  All this exposition truly means is that whatever exaggerated action scenario Matt finds himself in, his kids are going to be right there beside him; because nothing brings a father’s attention back down to Earth more than having his family threatened.

Angry that he has to dad for the day, Matt’s drive to school to drop off Zach and Emily is interrupted when a rogue ringtone is heard in the car, one that none of them recognise or claim as their own.  Finding a phone in the passenger seat – which should probably be the first tip that Matt’s day is about to turn to shit – he answers it to hear a digitally distorted voice on the other end inform that the car has been wired with an explosive and will detonate should Matt exit the vehicle.  Urgh, Mondays! Am I right?

From hereon, the voice drives Matt to certain destinations in a manner that essentially fills us in as an audience as to what his banking job actually requires him to do.  Offshore accounts and blackmail babble fill the 90 minute running time as Matt does his best to keep his children safe, whilst pleading his innocence to the authorities; Noma Dumezweni as a Europol agent believing it’s all an elaborate plot that Matt has cooked up himself.

As directed by Hungarian filmmaker Nimród Antal – an underrated pulp director with such treats as Vacancy (2007) and the 2010 sequel Predators to his resume – Retribution sits comfortably in the B-movie sweet spot that so many of Neeson’s action titles tend to, and before it entirely spins out of control from a story standpoint, it manages to make its confined action as thrilling as possible; Antal working wonders with the setting taking place almost entirely in the family car Neeson is driving.

Suspension of disbelief is always something that these films require, and Retribution is no different – it probably needs to be applied more so – as each twist and turn can’t help but be met with an eye roll.  This isn’t a fault of Neeson or Antal though, and it’s a shame as the plot itself could’ve lent itself to something that didn’t succumb to complete implausibility.

Though it doesn’t entirely help Neeson’s case in continuing to forward with this late-stage career move, Retribution is ultimately serviceable and, thankfully, never dull, and if it opens up viewers to what Antal is capable of as a director with limited space and an average script, then that can only bode well for his previous works that, personally, feel entirely undiscovered.


Retribution is screening in Australian theatres from September 21st, 2023.

Peter Gray

Seasoned film critic. Gives a great interview. Penchant for horror. Unashamed fan of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jason Momoa.