Remaining calm and finding a way to regain power over an unforeseen, harrowing circumstance that has become beyond their control is the ultimate goal for most people, especially when the situation involves their family. That motivation to recapture and maintain the leverage in a conflict is the driving force of Liam Neeson‘s protagonist of Matt Turner in his latest action thriller, Retribution.
The film asks audiences to question how they might behave when their loved ones’ lives are at risk. Families are always contending with low-level internal fighting, but when their lives are threatened, people like Matt realize how much they really love their family and would do anything to help them.
Retribution was written by Christopher Salmanpour and directed by Nimrod Antal (Stranger Things, Predators). The feature is the third remake of the 2015 Spanish movie El desconocido, which won two Goya Awards, the Spanish equivalent of the Academy Awards.
Retribution follows Matt, a successful financier who has made a comfortable life for himself and his family in Berlin. However, he has been grappling with growing tensions within his company and with his wife, Heather (Embeth Davidtz), and their two children recently. One morning, Matt reluctantly agrees to his spouse’s last-minute request that he drive their son and daughter, Zach and Emily (Jack Champion and Lilly Aspell), to school, despite having to make an important call to a client.
While the drive begins seemingly routine, a mysterious caller who has technologically modified his voice to hide his identity contacts the protagonist. The unknown assailant reveals that he has put a bomb under Matt’s car seat, and warns that if he or his children try to leave the vehicle, the bomb will be detonated.
In order to protect his children, Matt begins a high-speed chase across the city to complete a specific series of tasks given to him by the unknown caller. What was initially meant to be a normal commute becomes a twisted game of life or death, as Matt must follow the stranger’s increasingly dangerous instructions in a race against time.
Matt also faces adversaries in the police. Based on evidence they’ve collected, the authorities start to believe that Matt is actually the bomber, and are determined to do whatever it takes to stop him – unless he can prove his innocence to them by sopping the actual criminal himself.
While the majority of the events in the crime drama take place within Matt’s SUV in almost real time, Salmanpour still crafted relatable, sympathetic characters in a propulsive plot that continuously builds tension. While not all viewers will relate to Matt’s prominent career and luxurious lifestyle, the protagonist was penned by the screenwriter, and played by Neeson in his typical protective, determined persona, to understandably do whatever it takes to protect his children.
While Matt doesn’t possess the same fighting and technical skills as the actor’s famous character of ex-CIA officer Bryan Mills in the Taken movie trilogy, Retribution‘s protagonist works extremely hard to figure out why the bomber is targeting him. Matt’s more limited skill set, but equal desperation to save his family, makes the film’s setup instantly engrossing. As a result, the character and story arcs are reminiscent of the plots of previous high-concept thrillers Neeson has become known for making with two of Retribution‘s producers, Andrew Rona and Alex Heineman, including Unknown and The Commuter.
Like Rona and Heineman’s previous films with Neeson, Retribution also thrives on its enthralling visual style, which Antal has also become known for, and the producers have long been fans of, during his career. The director was able to reflect on Matt and his family’s struggles and complexities through the tensions inside and outside of their SUV.
Through both intimate and sweeping cinematography from Retribution‘s Director of Photography, Flavio Martínez Labiano, the shots of Matt and his wife and their children provide an instinctive sense that there are underlying problems between them. That tension provides a perfect setup for the bomber to easily coerce the distracted Matt into doing whatever he demands.
The protagonist has become so driven in his career that he doesn’t know how to communicate with his family
anymore. Matt doesn’t fully realize that fact until he sees the harrowed expressions on their faces that are captured by Labiano in emotional close-ups.
To amplify the emotional and physical danger that Matt has inadvertently put his children in, Antal and Labiano created unique compositions in a confined space that’s reminiscent of such fellow claustrophobic thrillers as the Tom Hardy-starring Locke and filmmaker Vincenzo Natali’s cult classic Cube. The close proximity between Neeson, Champion and Aspell created a natural bond between them that manifested within the characters’ growing reliance and trust in each other.
Despite the story mainly take place inside the SUV, the director and cinematographer avoided visual redundancy and enhanced the compositions of the performers’ portrayals. Moving the camera in a 360-degree angle highlighted the perspectives of Matt and his children as they not only interacted with each other, but also the unknown caller and the dangerous car chases they embark on with the police throughout Berlin.
The drama also visually stands out for being shot on a mix of Berlin streets and Studio Babelsberg soundstages, employing a technology that projects digital backgrounds onto the walls, which add authentic exteriors to a controllable central environment. Shooting it that way allowed Labiano to use handheld camera inside the SUV, to capture the actors’ most authentic reactions during the most turbulent situation.
While Retribution‘s overall character and story developments are limited in certain aspects, overall it thrives as a cautionary tale about the importance of appreciating family relationships and career achievements. From the initially realistic strained dynamics between Matt and his family to their instant need to protect each other once he’s contacted by the bomber and the intimacy of the camera movements, the movie is an immersive, exhilarating experience that should be experience in theaters.
Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions are releasing Retribution in theaters tomorrow, August 25.