Despite his solid performance, Retribution–originally titled El desconido in Spanish–is little more than a trite riff on Speed, except instead of a bus blowing up if it dips below a certain speed (in 1994, so cool) in this case it’s a small BMW SUV in danger of exploding if any of its passengers lifts his or her butt from the seat. (2015, not quite so cool.)
Vague and derivative storytelling
Tosar plays Carlos, a corrupt banker in La Coruña, Galicia, who is involved in some vague financial chicanery. There are allusions to his bad behavior, as wells as a troubled marriage, but it’s all painted in such broad strokes that I didn’t feel invested in it at all. Also, he’s the father of two kids who have the misfortune of being stuck with Papá in the BMW bomb on wheels, since Carlos is taking them to school when he receives a call about a seat-pressure bomb in his car.
A mystery dude (the titular ‘desconocido’) is on the phone with Carlos, and is demanding money. He wants Carlos to not only empty his own personal bank account, but also to work the phone and swindle his investment clients out of even more money and then fork it over to him. The whole time the guy won’t say why he wants the money or what Carlos has done wrong to deserve this fate.
Spain loved Retribution, so what do I know?
Retribution (El desconocido) got great reviews in Spain, with El País writing, “La hemos visto más veces, pero no así, y no aquí,” which is to say “We’ve seen it so many times, but not like this, and not here.”
I admit my privileged viewpoint as an American who is bored by this movie perhaps because I’ve seen blockbuster after American blockbuster, thriller after thriller with endless special effects and obscene budgets throughout my whole life.
I do imagine it’s really cool as a Spaniard to see a bona fide action flick taking place in your country, in your language, and maybe that explains how Retribution (El desconocido) managed to corner eight Goya nominations. It won two Goyas in 2016: Best Editing and Best Sound. I admit, the editing is good.
The film was helmed by Dani de la Torre, a Galician director making the jump to film for the first time from Spanish TV. Overall, there are a lot of good pieces here, but too many nonsensical leaps of faith are required to fully buy into the drama. And the screenplay, to me, was a mess. But hey, I’m not a native Spanish speaker, so perhaps there was some subtle nuance that was lost on me.
Retribution is currently streaming on Netflix
Retribution (El desconocido) is currently streaming on Netflix. If you just want a brainless thriller, give it a go, but know that the wheel doesn’t even come close to being reinvented here.
But la rueda is polished to a Spanish sparkle, which given the ambitions of the Spain’s film industry, there’s something to be said for the effort of creating their very own film Hollywoodiense, even if it’s heavy on style and light on substance.
Luis Tosar, I still love you. I’d watch you in a legit Hollywood thriller any day of the week. <3