Directed by Kat Candler.
Starring Aaron Paul, Juliette Lewis, Josh Wiggins, Deke Garner and Jonny Mars.
An emotionally distant widower tries to reconnect with his wayward teenage son after the authorities split the family up.
For anybody with young children writer/director Kat Candler’s Retribution (a.k.a. Hellion) is a film that touches on several themes about family, responsibility and the nature of being a parent. Widower Hollis Wilson (Aaron Paul – Breaking Bad) is raising his two sons – 13-year-old Jacob (Josh Wiggins) and the younger Wes (Deke Garner) – whilst trying to hold down a job and get over the loss of his wife, a task not helped by his constant drinking and bouts of being absent from the family home. Also not helping is the increasingly criminal behaviour of the metal-loving Jacob, who hangs around with his equally angry friends, generally gets in trouble with the police and has the threat of being sent into juvenile detention hanging over his head.
All this is brought to a head when, after a stunt where Jacob’s ‘crew’ (as he calls them) sneak Wes out of the house in the middle of the night for some pyro-based fun, the police and CPS show up to assess the Wilson’s home life, deciding that little Wes is better off living with Hollis’ wife’s sister Pam (Juliette Lewis – From Dusk Till Dawn), which forces Hollis to get his act together whilst trying to reconnect with the wayward Jacob.
So there’s something of a soap opera setup to Retribution and, if truth be told, there’s not really a lot here that hasn’t been dealt with by pretty much every prime time television drama you can think of, which means that there is very little in the way of surprises in terms of plot. The kids – with the exception of the innocent Wes – are all quite vile and play up to the stereotypes of being into metal and riding motorbikes (neither of which makes you a bad person, despite the clichéd thinking behind that old chestnut), and the adults are all quite ineffective and don’t listen to what is being said to them, by the kids or by other adults.
What Retribution does have, however, is a cast of actors who seem to be giving their all when it comes to their performances, despite the average nature of the material. Aaron Paul really digs deep to bring Hollis and his plight to life, making us believe that the youthful actor really is this haggard, dishevelled drunk who does love his kids but just cannot get it together enough to be the responsible adult and guiding force in their lives. Juliette Lewis also gives a notable performance as Aunt Pam, who doesn’t want to split the family but cannot sit by and watch Hollis throw it all away, but stealing the show from both of the main adults in the cast is Josh Wiggins as Jacob. His intentionally unstable performance ranges from angry and stubborn to vulnerable and needy – quite often in the same scene – and the young actor holds it together admirably. The unsettling scene where he has it out with Hollis whilst in a crowded pizza restaurant is cringeworthy for all the right reasons and is as awkward watching it on a TV screen as it would be actually seeing it play out for real, with both actors playing off of each other as if they really were father and son.
But excellent performances aside, Retribution never really gets above the level of predictable, beginning at one point and ending at another without much of an arc. The scene where all of the children’s anger comes to a head takes the safe option when there was a great opportunity for Kat Candler to take it somewhere darker and make somebody else the victim of the violence, and that could have made the final scenes between Hollis and Jacob more impactful and significant. Instead the film ends with less of a bang and more of a whimper, and that is a shame considering the talent involved and the work that they put in, but Retribution is still worth watching as long as you don’t get your hopes up for something more groundbreaking.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★