Event: Payback DVD
I had not seen Brian Helgelands heist, revenge flick PAYBACK
when it originally landed in the theatres (although JoBlo apparently
had a blast with it back in 1999, as it ended up in his top 10 of
that year...read his review HERE).
In fact, only recently did I get to witness it just before I
headed to the beautiful Arclight Cinema in
What about it worked? Well, the most important thing for me was the ending. Without giving anything away, its nice to see a darker and more somber ending where things arent all sunshine and roses, especially in a movie starring Mel Gibson. With the original, it was upbeat and almost felt apologetic to the audience by saying, it is okay that hes a bad guy, because he will straighten out. And everything will be happily ever after. It was nice to see the riskier Straight Up final moments yet I did kind of miss Kris Kristofferson, as he is played here as a voice only by Sally Kellerman. Yep hot lips yet as I said, she is on speaker phone only.
I also appreciated the lack of voiceover from Mel. I got what was going on and did not need it reiterated throughout the film. Yes, it made the original feel more noir than this and it didnt hurt the film necessarily, but I appreciated figuring it all out for myself. Mel Gibson gives a strong enough performance without having to rely on telling the audience his thoughts and plans. It didnt need it.
There were other changes made and some were hit and miss. The truth is both films work on different levels. Gregg Henry is superb as the best buddy who f*cks Porter over for a few dollars more. Maria Bello is lovely as Rosie yet she gets to play a little more on the bad guy side in the original. And if you are a dog lover, you may really appreciate the original more. Brian Helgeland, either way, made a pretty damn good Mel Gibson movie. And sadly, audiences had a hard time dealing with Mel being a bad guy. Maybe with his recent gossip-worthy actions, PAYBACK might have found an audience today. And thanks to DVD, you can decide which one is worth your time. But if you prefer a little darkness as opposed to light, you might want to go Straight Up with Helgelands version (you can read our very own DVD CLINIC's review of that DVD HERE).
After watching his rich in atmosphere revenge drama, the audience had the
pleasure of listening to Brian answer a few questions with moderator
James Ellroy, author of THE BLACK DAHLIA and
|James Ellroy||Brian Helgeland|
James Ellroy: How many times can you say the words, f*ck and porter? How many cigarettes can you smoke? How much booze can you guzzle? How many sleazoid women can you ogle? How many people can you kill? How many goons, gophers, pimps, hos and overall pieces of shit can you work over and maim? The answer is, in Brian Helgelands world, a great many. But much more importantly, why do we need to desensitize ourselves to death so horribly and why do we find such a horrible, bleak and sorrowful beauty in crime? I dont f*cking know. But I get the feeling that Brian Helgeland will tell us tonight. I am gonna sit down and I am gonna ask questions of Brian Helgeland. I am the interlocutor, he is the suspect. I may beat him with a phone book or a beaver tail sap in order to exact the truth. Whyd ya make this f*cking thing? And Mel Gibson is really short and ape-like. And where did you get these cheesy, snake-like, bleached-blonde, acne-scarred women? I know your wife; shes a big, good-looking, handsome woman. Older than you by several months why Brian Im listening?
Brian Helgeland: Um I have to just give straight answers, I cant compete so I wanted to direct, so I wrote this script to direct. I was on a dub stage an ADR stage at Warner Brothers where we were doing ADR for Conspiracy Theory, which I had written. And the director couldnt get there and I started the session and I had half the script in my hand, Mel looked through it and said he wanted to maybe do it. That was the beginning of it.
JE: What kind of handle did you have on the themes going in?
BH: I wanted to do something simple. Take a man who is about momentum and balance and he lost him momentum and balance when he got double crossed, in a situation he should have seen coming a mile away, that he didnt see. And hes trying to get that momentum and balance back. And by the end he feels like hes hitting on all cylinders again. That was it. That was the entire momentum and balance and how someone whos off his game can get back on it.
JE: How do you feel about the movie [Point Blank, the original for which this is based] and how do you think it holds up?
BH: You know, Ive only seen it once and it was about ten years ago. And I like anything Lee Marvins in but I was never I was aware of Point Blank and aware of where it stood in the cinematic world and I wasnt interested in trying to top that, or trying to compete with that. I had gone back to the novel that the whole thing was based on [The Hunter by Richard Stark]. Thats where I started; I started off by reading the book and thinking that this could be I didnt even know that, because the books called The Hunter, I didnt even know at first that Point Blank was based on it, Donald Westlake writing under a pseudonym. But I read the book and thought it could be a little, tiny crime movie and maybe someone would give me the money to do it. So I wasnt thinking Point Blank at all really, to start.
JE: Would you like to talk about Richard Stark, the penname of Donald Westlake, and his Parker books?
BH: Yeah. I find Donald Westlake very interesting because he writes a lot of comic novels under his own name, The Dortmunder, heist movies and crime movies, The Hot Rock being one of the ones that got made into a film years ago. And his alter ego, he writes under the name Richard Stark and its completely different. Its this guy Parker, and Westlake wont let anyone use the name so you have to come up with a different name for him. So in Point Blank it was Walker, in another movie I think Jim Brown played him once another name, I called him Porter because it was as close to Parker as I could get. I guess there was something so simple about him and so unapologetic. You just follow this criminal around doing his business. I always thought they were great and very cinematic.
JE: How aware were you at the moment of how the satirical power of the film would accrue [in regards to the constant use of the name Porter]?
BH: I was trying to just build it a certain way; I wasnt that part of it I wasnt planning out so much. I knew there was power to his name when it got said. But I didnt plan it any further than that. But I just knew it had a strength to it that name.
JE: Can I ask you about the visual design of the film? Is it the 1970s that were looking at?
BH: No, no, what we wanted to do is create a world of Palookaville The City that kind of world where you dont know we shot it in LA and New York and Chicago and we had a rule on cars, they could be anywhere from 66 to 88 I think. [We] tried to create a world where and the costume design also, it looked like you could be wearing those clothes in the 70s but if you had them on here in the 90s when we made it, you wouldnt look out of place. So it was very much trying to create a kind of nowhere place that you couldnt quite figure out where you were. Which I think is the great thing you can do in a movie world and if you do it well and the audience accepts that world, then theyll accept whats going on in the movie.
JE: The visual design itself is in the bright, bright red in the titles thats out of the Seventies.
BH: Yeah, I think that was those were, I think the Shaft I think they were the same titles as Shaft had.
JE: Theres a sub-genre that I love that we discussed many times that plays into this, and thats the heist gone bad. Where fallibility surfaces and the flawed psychology of the various characters asserts itself and everything gets f*cked. Its a variation of the great film noir theme of yer f*cked [Laughter]. Were you thinking of that? Were you thinking of revenge flicks, of heist gone bad flicks, evil, bad, sordid love flicks, when you wrote this?
BH: Yeah, I was thinking In all those movies its never the crime that goes wrong, its the aftermath of the crime. Where you learn peoples motivations and things; they cant keep quiet. They spend the money. They alert the police one way or the other. They go out and buy Cadillacs. They do all these things because they dont really have a plan of anything past the crime. Its just about the crime and pulling it off and no one has thought beyond that. So once the really do pull the crime off things fall apart because they dont look past that.
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