Payback was originally released in 1999, with Brian Helgeland credited as director, even after he was replaced by production designer (ouch, that’s gotta hurt) John Myhre. This Straight Up edition is what director Brian Helgeland intended us to see…even though it’s pretty bad itself.
But for whatever it’s worth, it’s interesting to see Gibson portray someone so unlikable--a premonition to his alcoholic, anti-Semitic days as a media anti-Christ. But unlike Gibson’s current antics, we’re supposed to ‘Get ready to root for the bad guy,’ as the film’s tagline goes. Unfortunately, Gibson’s Porter is about as sympathetic as, well, Mel Gibson. Any charisma that Gibson had is absent in Payback, as he mulls around, lucky that his hard-hitting question “Where is so-and-so?” works every time.
The script (by director Helgeland and Terry Hayes, based on Donald E. Westlake’s novel The Hunter, which in turn inspired 1967’s Point Blank), aside from story problems, is wasteful to secondary characters. Take Val’s (Gregg Henry) date for the night, a masochistic hooker (Lucy Liu) who spouts out degrading lines like “Me love you long time.”
But there are some solid moments in Payback, like the cheesy, accidentally funny scenes between Porter and Val, or the bleached, neo-noir feel that provides a heartbeat to an otherwise morgue-of-a-film.
Payback is a revenge film broken down to the sub-genre’s most generic factors: man is double-crossed by partner, girlfriend stabs him in back, man hunts down villains, Mel Gibson fires a gun. This is basically all that Helgeland and his Straight-Up Payback offers.
Paybacks Are a Bitch: On Set in Chicago (30:01) and LA (19:38): With a half hour spent in Chicago, and nearly 20 mins. in the City of Angels, these bits run a bit long. Even so, the title is a bit misleading, since these pieces are more reflections from the cast/crew (Richard Donner included) on the evolution of Payback. This is a lot more interesting than it should’ve been.
PS—Gibson sports that wacky Apocalypto beard.
Same Story, Different Movie – Creating The Director’s Cut (28:54): The disc wouldn’t be complete without the addition to this companion piece, which goes into how the film was cut to be made audience-friendly, and the differences between the DVD-cut and the theatrical-cut. A bit long, but very informative for those who haven’t seen the original version.
The Hunter: A Conversation with Author Donald E. Westlake (10:47) is just what it sounds like: an unenlightening discussion with Westlake, and how he has to think of different ways to write “Parker parks” in his novels.
And some Previews.