You can’t help but feel bad for Liam Neeson, and not because his movie family is constantly in danger. Ever since 2008’s Taken, the 71-year-old Irish actor has had to constantly save them and the action genre that he defined, as a retired CIA operative who had to track down his kidnapped daughter, set the gold standard of retired action stars.
Naturally, things got out of hand. In the 2012 sequel, his wife was abducted, forcing him to get back on his feet to hunt down the baddies. Then there was the final 2014 movie where he had to save himself. Uh, sure.
Subsequently, Neeson went on to headline generic and forgettable action flicks in the same vein, including Non-Stop (2014), Run All Night (2015), The Commuter (2018) and Blacklight (2022) and if you haven’t seen those or don’t remember what they were about, your life won’t change much, because Neeson, and audiences deserve better. It might be a steady paycheck, but Neeson really isn’t doing himself any favours by being typecast. Retribution follows the same formula where Neeson plays a father who is threatened by a mysterious bomber while driving his kids to school. And get this – this co-production by France, Germany, Spain and the United States is already the third remake of the 2015 movie El Desconocido, but it doesn’t make any one any more.
In this version directed by Nimród Antal and written by Chris Salmanpour, Neeson plays Matt Turner, a Berlin-based businessman who may have dabbled a bit too much in some shady dealings. But more importantly, he is a father trapped in his car with his two children, as the caller on the other end of the mysterious mobile phone in his car informs him that he just triggered a bomb by sitting on it. And if he doesn’t do as he is told, the car will explode.
Remember Neeson running around the city trying to track and take on the bad guys? Well, the bulk of this movie has him seated in the driver’s seat of the car, where he’s just driving around and talking into a hands-free wired microphone. Imagine 91 glorious minutes of our protagonist exchanging conversations with the unseen bad guy speaking with a digitally altered voice. In between the calls, bombs go off in nearby cars which is a sign that the villain means business. The movie tries its best to be a smart thriller but amidst the red herrings, the plot twists come across as convoluted rather than clever. Even the inevitable car chase only takes place one hour into the film and by that time, you just want to see his beat-up Mercedes SUV get blown up to stop this ride that seems to go nowhere.
We see competent supporting performances from Embeth Davidtz (Neeson’s Schindler’s List co-star) as Turner’s wife, Matthew Modine as his business partner, while Jack Champion and Lilly Aspell do what they can with their limited screen time as his kids.
At the centre of the movie though is Neeson, who is fully convicted to this role. He does a great job with a variety of emotions that includes confusion, fear, frustration and anger. These are expressions you would have seen before if you watched any of the abovementioned movie titles but there’s nothing new in this by-the-numbers movie if you are looking for surprises. And there is only so much audiences can get conned into such films.
Don’t get us wrong – we are impressed with the actor’s filmography. He was brilliant in critically-acclaimed films like Schindler’s List (1993), Michael Collins (1996) and Kinsey (2004). And geeks loved him as Qui-Gon Jinn in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999), Ra’s al Ghul in Batman Begins (2005) and Zeus in Clash of the Titans (2010). And he has a great voice too (he was Aslan the talking lion in The Chronicles of Narnia series) – in fact, one huge reason why this average action movie works is because of Neeson’s signature voice which we get to hear a lot of. That said, we do wish the 71-year-old actor would take on less of these forgettable action movie roles.