Retribution is the latest Liam Neeson Old Man Action Movie. It is directed by Nimród Antal and co-stars Matthew Modine, Lilly Aspell, and Jack Champion. Neeson plays a hedge fund manager whose car is rigged to explode if he gets out of the driver’s seat. Over the course of several ham-handed sequences, Neeson is on the phone with the alleged bomber in order to negotiate for his release and the lives of his kids who coincidentally are also in the car.
Retribution is a dumpster fire of a film that treats anyone unfortunate enough to watch it with open contempt.
Starting with the character work, Neeson’s character is a jerk. He mistreats his kids and manipulates an investor to stay in a risky venture. All of this is fine if the rest of the movie entails the character reckoning with his failings and coming to terms with how he’s behaved. But that doesn’t happen. It would even work if Neeson’s character – like the “Masters of the Universe” of 80s lore such as Gordon Gecko (Michael Douglas) in Wall Street (1987) – would come up with twisted logic that justifies his actions. No, that doesn’t happen either. What we get is … nothing. He spouts, “I’m sorry” a couple times, but for what he’s apologizing is uncertain. It is the flattest of arcs.
The action sequences involve some of the worst editing possible. It is clear the filmmakers didn’t shoot enough, so when Neeson’s character is in a car chase, we get a shot of Neeson driving, then a shot of an advertisement on a passing building, then Neeson, then another exterior shot, more Neeson, and then the same advertisement on the same passing building. No, he’s not going in circles. The filmmakers just didn’t think their audience would notice them reusing the same shots.
During other sequences, particularly the climax, some serendipitous car rolls and police behavior defy credibility. Only a movie that thinks its audience is dumb would attempt to pull off these sequences. And there are more than a few moments when it looks like the character is setting up a plan, the plan works out, and then the character has a “what do I do now” look on their face … To which any audience would say, “Weren’t you planning this?”
Retribution is a sloppy, terrible movie that wastes the talents of all involved. Its open contempt for the viewer makes it borderline insulting, and as good as Taken (2008) might have been, the sub-genre of Liam Neeson Old Man Action Movie has fully run its course.