Payback – Straight Up: The Director's Cut – DVD Review

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Brian Helgeland


Mel Gibson … Porter
Gregg Henry … Val Resnick
Maria Bello … Rosie
David Paymer … Arthur Stegman
Bill Duke … Det. Hicks
Deborah Kara Unger … Mrs. Lynn Porter
John Glover … Phil
William Devane … Carter
Lucy Liu … Pearl
Jack Conley … Det. Leary

The Movie

When it comes to making even the most despicable slime-ball into a likable hero, only Mel Gibson seems to have the sort of charisma it takes to pull it off successfully. That explains the ability of Payback to wallow in the mire of the criminal underworld filled with hookers, mob bosses and dirty cops and manage to have a seemingly amoral psychopath be the most redeeming character available. It may be a depressing world that Porter (Gibson) lives in, but he somehow manages to be a shining light in it.

Remade from the Lee Marvin classic Point Blank, Payback follows Porter as he pursues his former partner Val Resnick (Gregg Henry). Resnick double crossed Porter for 70 thousand dollars after a heist and Porter, naturally, wants his money back. Not the whole proceeds of the heist, as everyone seems to think, just his seventy grand. Moving up the criminal underworld, and leaving a pile of bodies, Porter’s hell-bent on finding someone who’ll give him his money. He has to fight his way up through the ranks of the Syndicate, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake.

And it’s an underrated performance from Gibson that prevents the film from being without any redeeming features. Porter isn’t a good man by any stretch of the means, and even Gibson’s presence doesn’t make him any more likeable, but Gibson is so focused as Porter one can’t help but like him. Porter is a mean, vicious guy who would be the heavy in any other action film but Gibson exudes so much charisma that he immediately becomes a hero despite his rather non heroic activities. He isn’t an anti-hero by any stretch; he’s a mean guy looking to settle an old score and will do whatever it takes to leave it settled in his favor.

Originally released in the late 90’s after his run in the Lethal Weapon series ended, Payback was originally released with a blue hue and an edit much different than what Brian Helgeland initially presented to the studio. The original cut of the film has been released without the blue hue and with approximately a third of it changed wholesale. This is a much darker and less funny film than its original release, as well as sans the narration from Porter. This is a no holds barred revenge film, gritty and raw like the film it was remade from as opposed to being an attempt by Gibson to continue being the action star bridge between the 80’s one man army and the 90’s action-comic.

It’s a different take on the same film, which is always a unique thing in cinematic purposes. Not too often do we get two different looks at what is essentially the same film. It’s a bit improved in terms of pacing, as well as the film’s darker tone suits the story more effectively. While it doesn’t turn the film from being a good one into a masterpiece, it does make it a great one.

A/V Quality Control

Presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1and in a widescreen format, the film certainly looks different than its initial release in theatres. It has much more in terms of earth tones and less of a blue hue to it, as it was originally released, and the film has a different vibe to it than it did before. The colors come through cleanly and clearly, but the sound is a bit soft. One has to turn the volume up on any decent stereo system to get sufficient total noise, but it is spread out well enough to make it worth it though.

The Extras

Paybacks are a Bitch is a feature looking back at the film from those who created it, as Helgeland and Gibson chime in on the film’s production as well as Richard Donner (who directed Helgeland’s script for the Gibson vehicle Conspiracy Theory) and principle members of the cast. It’s an interesting perspective from those assembled, as they trade inside stories from the film’s production.

Same Story — Different Movie, Creating Payback: The Director’s Cut is a feature focusing on how the forces that be decided to release the original cut of the film. Helgeland fully admits that the film isn’t a masterpiece, and that his thoughts for the film were that it shouldn’t be some retread of a member of the Lethal Weapon franchise. It’s an interesting look at why the film was changed at the studio level, as it was held in post-production for over a year and had extensive re-shoots, including the principle members involved.

The Hunter: A Conversation with Author Donald E Westlake is a retrospective from Westlake about the book that the film was based on.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for
Payback – Straight Up: The Director’s Cut
(OUT OF 10)