Dir: Dani de la Torre
I first saw the Spanish actor Luis Tosar as the abusive husband of Laia Marull in Take My Eyes. Since then, I've found him a consistently commanding actor, one with a very particular screen presence. Tosar seems to have a great line in coiled, menacing, energy which explodes like a powder keg. This is where his casting in Retribution is so effective.
Tosar plays Carlos, an investment banker with a wife, two kids, and a relatively comfortable life. One morning on the school run he gets a call telling him that there is a bomb in his car, that he must pay the caller 488,000 Euros and that if anyone gets out of the car, it will explode.
Putting Tosar's energy in such a hemmed in position is the film's masterstroke. Here's a guy we can see building in both panic and rage as the day runs on, and with just the use of a phone, another man has managed to put him in a box within a box. The fact that Tosar's usual energy is contained in this artificial way is a key element of the film's suspense and, alongside his and most of the other performances, the only element of Retribution that works all the way through the film.
While the action is confined to the car, the camera isn't (which keeps this from becoming the misplaced piece of radio drama that last year's Locke was). This is one of the ways that first-time director Dani de la Torre is able to keep the film's energy up – the other being the sheer amount of incident, for the first hour Retribution barely takes a breath. Then the car stops, the power shifts and much of the tension built up over the first hour starts to ebb away as more characters come in to the situation and things begin to get ever less credible. It's never exactly a mystery why Carlos has been targeted by the caller, but still, when confirmation comes the dialogue is clangingly on the nose and strains with every sinew for contemporary resonance.
It's a pity that Retribution begins to fall apart in its second half, but Tosar keeps it watchable right up until the end. He's a great actor, I just wish this material could match him for consistency.