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Payback (1999) & Payback Straight Up: Director's Cut (2006) - Netflix Finds Review

{2jtab: Movie Review}

Payback - Netflix Finds Review

A Netflix Finds Review

3 stars

Mel Gibson sucks. Note that well. Sucks. At one point he didn't. Take note of the year on this movie - 1999. At one point, after Y2K scares were over, something inside of Mel Gibson's head went off Manchurian Candidate style and assassinated his own career. As far as acting that is. He received lots of notoriety for his gruesome The Passion of the Christ and the familiar follow up Apocalypto. But acting wise, let's face it - when the two highlights of your career in the last 12 years are you voicing a clay chicken and the other is you talking to your hand for 2 hours, there's a problem.

Before he reached the tipping point mentally, he reached one last great effort - Brian Helgeland's revenge thriller Payback. Double crossed by his colleague, the disgruntled Porter starts Payback off without hesitating. He's instantly impressing the audience with his wits and his slyness. After a brief rehabilitation session he's automatically seeking out his revenge. What makes Gibson's performance so grand here, is that it returns him to the roots everyone was hoping he'd eventually get back to - ass kicking. It's hard to believe now, but at one point, yes, Mel Gibson was one of the top action stars in Hollywood, probably the world. He had his fair share of dramas and comedies, but the Lethal Weapon series was huge, and who could forget his beginnings down under with the Mad Max trilogy?

He returns to a much missed form here, with brutal punishment being inflicted on just about anyone who gets in his way. There's humor laced nicely into Payback though. Now, I've never seen $70,000, so I can't really comment on how piddly it may seem to mob bosses. What I can say, is that the conviction of Porter throughout Payback is really the pay-off for watching this flick. His intentions are fairly simple - get his share. Not a penny more or less. The entire movie revolves around his quest to get his $70K share, and when the thugs he's about to batter realize the amount, they all laugh or joke about it - tell him not to worry about it. Porter is of a different mold than most though. He'll get his money even if he dies doing it.

Like the great anti-heroes of our time, it's about principle, even if it's skewed. Does John Mclaine really need to shoot up 20 terrorists for the wife who despises him? Probably not, but its the principle of the fact. It's what makes us love them. Even if Porter wanted to stop, he can't. He takes this fight from basements to hotel rooms, and even after he catches up with the prick who did this to him, he's still unsatisfied until he gets his money. The stab in the back was just the start of it, and the stealing of his share was a twist of the knife. The onslaught he unleashes is at times both comical and gritty, blended smoothly together.

It's no doubt a terminally flawed film right from the start. Any movie that fires the director with only 70% of the movie finished is never a good sign. Especially a director with such a great track record - he'd just won an Oscar for L.A. Confidential - it's hard to believe any studio wanting to fire the director so close to completion. In a Richard Donner/Superman II type situation, the studio didn't like the direction the film was going in. This usually means "it's too dark," or "you went over budget." It's probably both in this situation. Thankfully Helgeland's version of the film is also available on Netflix, albeit not Instant Watch.

There are some drastic differences between the films, but to me the Director's Cut is the superior film thanks to some tonal shifts, and the omission of unnecessary voice-over narration, and a massive subplot being removed entirely that seemed too strange to begin with. There are folks who will champion the theatrical version of course, and rightfully so, since both versions of the film are substantially better than anything Gibson's starred in since. In the end Payback packs a walloping punch. It's quick, witty, sloppy, and fun. It never pretends to be a deep thriller, it's an action film geared specifically to those who just like to see a guy with a gun beat the hell out of someone and function strictly off of impulse. To that degree, Payback is extremely successful.

{2jtab: Film Details}

Payback - Netflix Finds ReviewMPAA Rating: R for strong violence, language, and drug and sexual content.
100 mins.
Director: Brian Helgeland
Writer: Brian Helgeland
Cast: Mel Gibson; Gregg Henry; Maria Bello; David Paymer; Bill Duke
Genre: Action | Thriller
Tagline: Get ready to cheer for the bad guy!
Memorable Movie Quote: "The problem with kicking a Chow's ass is an hour later you wanna do it again."
Paramount Pictures
Official Site:

Theatrical Release Date: February 5, 1999
Link to Netflix:
Payback (1999)

Synopsis: Porter's ex-wife and former partner steal the money he lifted from the Chinese triads, shoot him and leave him for dead -- or so they think. But five months later, he's back and ready to exact his revenge.

Payback Straight Up - Netflix Finds ReviewMPAA Rating: This title has not been rated by the MPAA.
90 mins.
Director: Brian Helgeland
Writer: Brian Helgeland
Cast: Mel Gibson; Maria Bello; James Coburn; Jack Conley; Hugh Callaly; William Devane
Genre: Action | Thriller
Tagline: He's back with a vengeance.
Memorable Movie Quote: "I'll do it myself. Do it myself. You want it done, you got to do it yourself! It's the American way!"
Paramount Pictures
Official Site:

Theatrical Release Date: No theatrical release

Synopsis: Porter’s a ruthless thug who goes after what he wants with a vengeance. After he's been double-crossed by his partner and wife, he wants some "payback" for the betrayal he's endured and the money he's owed. However after Porter learns that his partner has used the money to join "The Outfit," he decides that they owe him instead. With the aid of a prostitute he used to work for, he pursues what he's entitled to. The theatrical version and director’s cut share the same material. Although they are similar, the endings are not. Porter’s more edgy, brutal and less humorous in the director’s cut. Also the film's color is less noir-suggestive and more dynamic looking. Some of the actors have changed too. Other changes include a score replacement, narration removal, and no softening quips. Either way, ‘Payback’ is a tour de force of singleminded unfettered brutality!

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