DVD covers don’t always 100% reflect the actual movie, and that certainly seems the case with Retribution. Looking at the cover you could be forgiven for thinking the film is an action thriller, but it’s not, it’s actually a rather serious indie drama.
The movie itself – originally called Hellion – is set in Texas and centres on 13-year-old Jacob ( Josh Wiggins), an angry and difficult young man who’s only one step away from juvenile detention. He’s still deep in grief for his dead mother, not helped much by his emotionally distant father, Hollis (Aaron Paul), who’s barely holding on himself.
Their family further disintegrates after Jacob gets his younger brother Wes (Deke Garner) involved in some trouble, resulting in CPS removing the preteen from their house and sending him to live with his aunt (Juliette Lewis). The fallout threatens to destroy Jacob’s life completely.
Retribution is certainly not a jolly movie. It’s a film about people whose lives are on the edge and where there’s a constant edge of anger and desperation. It does an extremely good job of capturing the paralysing effects of grief and also has a great angle on the contradictions of juvenile ‘delinquency’, with young people full of anger who are constantly getting into trouble, but then they go to someone’s house and watch cartoons together.
It’s also helped by some great performances, particularly from Aaron Paul and the absolutely excellent Josh Wiggins.
Unfortunately though it’s not all good news, as it’s a movie with a script that one minute is smart, subtle and acutely observed, but the next is clumsy, overblown and verging towards cliché. It’s particularly problematic during the film’s more explosive moments, where the potential drama is undercut by the fact it seems a little too hyperbolic and timeworn compared to what’s gone before. This is often an issue with movies that lean towards southern gothic, and while the film does a good job of building tension towards an inevitable eruption, when it when that emotional explosion comes, it doesn’t quite work. What’s a particular shame is that when it quietens down again afterwards it’s far more effective.
Retribution is one of those films that’s close to being brilliant, but it doesn’t quite make it. It’s still worthwhile and there’s a lot of talent on show, but there’s undoubtedly a frustration while watching it that it couldn’t have evened out its tendency towards following the indie rules a little too closely and therefore ending up clumsier than it might have been.
Overall Verdict: Great performances and a script that has massive empathy for its characters ensures there’s plenty to praise about Retribution, but a tendency towards bungling the big moments undercuts its power.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac