We review the latest Liam Neeson thriller, Retribution, which proves to be another disappointing entry into the icon’s filmography.
PLOT: A businessman (Liam Neeson) is trapped in his car with his two kids by a mysterious caller who warns him that there’s a bomb under his seat that will go off if anyone tries to exit the vehicle.
REVIEW: Remember when Liam Neeson said he was giving up action movies a few years ago? Many think he wasn’t being serious, but watching his latest, Retribution, I’m almost thinking he was telling the truth as there’s so little going on here in the way of physical action that you could almost call this an “inaction” movie. Indeed, Neeson spends 95% of the running time comfortably seated behind the wheel of his car, making this less taxing than the brawnier movies that made him a late-in-life action star.
As usual, Neeson’s latter-era movies are a mixed bag. I was fond of his recent film noir, Marlowe, and the recent thriller The Marksman wasn’t bad. But, too many of his movies, such as Blacklight and Honest Thief, have been assembly line. While Retribution has a better director than usual in Nimrod Antal (Predators), this is a disappointingly lame remake of the Spanish movie El Desconocido, which seems primed to be another box-office misfire for the actor.
One can’t blame Neeson for embracing the public’s desire to make him into the 21st century Charles Bronson, but I wish he’d choose better material, with his B-movies paling next to someone like Gerard Butler’s. He at least tries to stretch a bit here, playing a cut-throat businessman who’s pretty dismissive towards his family. He ignores his wife (Embeth Davidtz – who doesn’t appear to have aged since her last movie with Neeson, Schindler’s List, thirty years ago) and neglects his kids. Both of them are used to being ignored, with his son (Avatar: The Way of Water‘s Jack Champion) openly hating him, while his daughter (Lily Aspell) is more understanding.
In the early scenes, Neeson seems meaner than usual, especially as he tries to hustle clients to please his boss (Matthew Modine – who appears to be having more fun than Neeson). The premise is that a client his company has apparently screwed over wants over $200 million in a secret slush fund transferred to him, or he’ll blow up the car.
After a promising start, Retribution goes off the rails when Neeson’s character, naturally, turns out to be wholly innocent of any misdoing. In the Spanish version, the hero was morally more morally flawed, but Neeson is always a true-blue guy. It would have been nice had they made him more ambiguous, but I guess they didn’t want to put off his fans.
Here’s the thing – Neeson has made A LOT of these mid-level thrillers recently, and it’s been awhile since the last really good one. If Retribution had a bit of good action, it would have been worth spending 90 minutes on, but it’s decidedly dull stuff. The twist is easy to predict, and Neeson seems bored once the premise is introduced. In terms of action, there are a few explosions and car chases, but it’s not especially inspired, and you’d have a better time watching the original Spanish movie if you’re looking for a thriller. Jack Champion at least tries to work in a bit of an arc for his character, but the kids are conveniently sidelined for much of the third act, and Neeson is seemingly on autopilot as soon as they’re out of the car.
Sadly, it’s getting to the point that Neeson’s movies have become a bummer to watch. Marlowe was good, and The Marksman offered him a better-than-average role, but only a few of these movies are more than disposable B-movies. He’s not in a DTV-style rut yet, but a few more movies like Retribution or Blacklight might put him there. I get that he’s aging, but I think Neeson is still capable of a lot more than he’s being given. Even his hardcore fans will likely find Retribution just as uninspired as the title suggests.