By James Murphy
Liam Neeson, like Denzel Washington, has entered a twilight of career doom loop of Charles Bronson vengeance movies, which is a shame, as he does possess a special set of acting skills. In Nimród Antal’s adaptation of 2015’s El desconocido, Neeson slips back into the comfortable slippers of “dad you don’t want to mess with” role, in a tepid reheating of leftover parts of Speed and Taken.
Maybe it has always been this way, but in the age of streaming, there appears to be a new category of action film: one that you can stream in the background while you scroll on your phone or cook dinner, and still understand. If you look up periodically when things go bang, you get the broad plot beats and, thankfully, miss the logical inconsistencies or gaping holes in proffered narrative.
Retribution, which sees Neeson and his kids, played by Lilly Aspell and Jack Champion, careen around the streets of Berlin in a Mercedes with a bomb under the seat, does look great; you get your Italian Job European high octane action fix. The first two thirds of the film, where Neeson’s unlikeable investment banker is tasked with following anonymous bomber’s video game-esque quests, is white knuckle, but as the bomber’s master plan becomes clear, it all becomes too absurd to fathom.
Retribution, which also stars Matthew Modine and Embeth Davidtz, also fails to tick the essential vengeance boxes: Neeson’s character is so unlikeable, that you aren’t really rooting for his payback while too little time is given to giving a face or voice to the villain. There is some interesting exploration of screen addiction in children and the ethicalness of late-stage capitalism, but these messages are muddled by the messy screenplay.
Why is Liam Neeson such an angry dad? Maybe his kids are streaming movies like this all day.
Retribution is now screening at Palace Nova East End and Palace Prospect.