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Brian Helgeland
Mel Gibson, Gregg Henry, Maria Bello, David Paymer, Bill Duke, Deborah Kara Unger, John Glover, William Devane, Lucy Liu
Writing Credits:
Donald E. Westlake (novel, "The Hunter", as Richard Stark), Brian Helgeland, Terry Hayes

No More Mr. Nice Guy.

Mel Gibson portrays Porter, a career criminal bent on revenge after his partners in a street heist pump metal into him and take off with his $70,000 cut. Bad move, thugs. Because if you plan to double-cross Porter, you'd better make sure he's dead. Porter resurfaces, wading into a lurid urban underworld of syndicate kingpins, cops on the take, sniveling informants and deadly gangs. Porter wants his money back. And the way he sets out to get is assures that, from beginning to heartpounding end, Payback pays off big.

Box Office:
$50 million.
Opening Weekend
$21.221 million on 2720 screens.
Domestic Gross
$81.517 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 90 min.
Price: $ 19.99
Release Date: 4/10/07

• Audio Commentary with Director/Writer Brian Helgeland
• “Paybacks Are a Bitch: On Location in Chicago” Featurette
• “Paybacks Are a Bitch: On Set in Los Angeles” Featurette
• “Same Story, Different Movie: Creating Payback: The Director’s Cut” Featurette
• “The Hunter: A Conversation with Author Donald E. Westlake” Featurette
• Previews


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Payback: Straight Up (Director's Cut) (2007)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 2, 2007)

When Payback hit screens in early 1999, I assumed it came as writer/director Brian Helgeland’s reward for the success of his Oscar-winning screenplay for 1997’s LA Confidential. However, it turns out that the film was already in production before Confidential became a hit. So why’d it take a year after the Oscars for Payback to make it onto multiplexes? Because the studio fired Helgeland, took over the project for him, and instituted reshoots that caused delays.

The made the 1999 version of Payback one that came without the endorsement of its nominal director. A very different product than the one Helgeland intended, it took eight years for his original vision to arrive. We get that with Payback – Straight Up: The Director’s Cut, a 2007 re-edit of the flick.

Payback introduces us to Porter (Gibson), a man on a violent mission of revenge. Through flashbacks, we see how he, his wife (Deborah Kara Unger) and partner Val (Gregg Henry) robbed a Chinese money-laundering group. This didn’t net as much cash as Val expected – and needed – so complications ensued. Actually, it turned out that Val and Porter’s wife double-crossed him; they knew what the total would be in advance, so they take the whole package, shoot Porter and leave him for dead.

Since we see this through flashbacks, obviously he didn’t perish. The experience leaves Porter rather bitter and with a great desire for revenge. The movie follows Porter’s attempts to find Val and get back the money he stole.

As I mentioned earlier, Payback – Straight Up: The Director’s Cut differs from its theatrical counterpart. It runs a full 10 minutes shorter than the 1999 version and makes substantial alterations. The two editions come with different tones and very dissimilar third acts. Essentially, the theatrical cut comes as a more comedic, less gritty edition.

Though I know that I saw Payback theatrically back in 1999, I maintain very few memories of it. I seem to recall that I didn’t think much of it but can’t recall anything more specific than that. I certainly can’t draw a direct comparison between the theatrical cut and this Straight Up edition, so it’s impossible for me to say that one works better than the other.

I do know that while Straight Up may carry a 2007 date on it, it sure comes across like a product of the 90s. Payback finds us smack-dab in Tarantino-style territory – albeit without the clever wordplay. Instead, Payback indulges in the dark cynicism of 90s cinema. It gives us violence accompanied by a cool, ironic tone. The flick uses brutality almost as an act of comedy at times, a component of many a 90s movie.

That makes Payback more of a product of its era than I’d like, and it often comes across as a bit dated. Really, it feels like a serious take on the style so aptly lampooned in 1998’s The Big Hit. That doesn’t mean Payback fails to create some sadistic entertainment for what it is. Gibson acts as one of the film’s strengths. He creates a cold, vicious lead character who immediately brings us into his world from the opening shots. Gibson’s performance helps lead us through the tale with a cruel nastiness that grips us.

This acts as a particularly positive factor given then paper-thin nature of the plot. Indeed, Payback barely musters an actual story. It offers more of a loose revenge fantasy than anything else. Because it becomes interesting to see how Porter overcomes all the odds against this, it works with reasonable efficiency, but no one will call it a deep tale.

And that lack of depth coupled with the dated nature of its style leaves Payback as a flawed product. The film keeps us intrigued most of the time, though it can’t maintain the heat its comic cynicism generates in its opening moments. It manages to provide moderate entertainment but no more than that.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus B+

Payback – Straight Up: The Director’s Cut appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Across the board, the movie seemed pretty solid.

Sharpness exhibited no significant concerns. A few shots seemed a little ill-defined, but those were rare and minor. Jagged edges and shimmering created no problems, and I noticed only light edge enhancement. Source flaws appeared absent. I saw a little grain but no other potential distractions.

Movies like Payback don’t usually boast lively hues, and the palette of the flick looked as cold as I expected. The colors seemed full within their chilly, desaturated parameters. The flick accentuated blues and dark tones. Blacks were deep and dense, but shadows could be a little heavy. Some low-light shots came across as slightly thick, though these didn’t create issues. Overall, the flick looked very good.

As for the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Payback, it benefited the material. The soundfield provided an expansive affair. Music demonstrated very good stereo delineation, and effects opened up to spectrum well. Most of the audio focused on the Chicago streets, and those segments broadened the mix to bring us into the settings. The smattering of action sequences also contributed good use of the various channels and created a strong feeling of place and events.

Audio quality was very good. Speech always remained concise and crisp, with no flaws audible. Music seemed vivid and rich, as the score showed nice range. Effects also came across as clean and accurate. Low-end demonstrated good oomph when necessary. This was a fine track.

When we move to the extras, we open with an audio commentary from writer/director Brian Helgeland. He offers a running, screen-specific discussion. Helgeland covers characters, cast and performances, story, themes and changes from the theatrical cut, sets and locations, visual design and other production subjects. In addition, he offers some insights into the reasons he was fired from the film.

Those elements provide the most intriguing aspects of this track. The rest of it works just fine, as we get a good look at the flick and its creation. However, we should get the most from the more controversial side of things, which Helgeland doesn’t cover in depth, but he digs into enough to satisfy. Overall, he presents a useful discussion.

Two featurettes appear under the banner of “Paybacks Are a Bitch”. On Location in Chicago runs 30 minutes as it presents movie clips, shots from the set, and interviews. We hear from Helgeland, filmmaker Richard Donner, director of photography Ericson Core, costume designer Ha Nguyen, producer Bruce Davey, stunt coordinator Mic Rodgers, and actors Deborah Kara Unger, Mel Gibson, Gregg Henry, David Paymer and Lucy Liu. We learn a little about the novel’s path to the screen and Helgeland’s route to the director’s chair, his work as director and issues related to his inexperience, casting and characters, visual and stylistic choices, filming in Chicago, costumes, and various scene specifics.

A companion piece, On Set in Los Angeles goes for 19 minutes, 38 seconds, and features Helgeland, Unger, Nguyen, Core, Donner, production designer Richard Hoover, and actors James Coburn, William Devane, and Maria Bello. It looks at performances and more character issues, sets, and a few other production bits.

Taken together, the two “Bitch” featurettes create a nice little production diary. We get a good feel for various aspects of the shoot and learn a lot of useful tidbits along the way. A few repeat from the commentary, but not too many redundant parts appear. I especially like the tales about Helgeland’s relationship with Donner; they flesh out the pieces well.

For a look at this new edition, we go to the 28-minute and 54-second Same Story – Different Movie – Creating Payback: The Director’s Cut. Here we find notes from Helgeland, Gibson, Unger, Core, composer Scott Stambler and editor Kevin Stitt. We learn of some differences between the two versions of the film as well as the work that went into recreating this 2007 cut. “Story” gives us a pretty blunt look at the issues that caused Helgeland to leave the film; it doesn’t sound like there’s any animosity between the parties, so they open up to discuss these topics. We also find nice notes about the differences. It’s a very good little program.

Ironic note: Helgeland clearly regards Donner as a mentor, and he expresses how he worried what reaction he’d receive when Donner found out he got fired. Helgeland fretted because he didn’t think Donner would ever allow himself to be kicked off of a film. Guess Helgeland forgot Superman II.

Next comes The Hunter: A Conversation with Author Donald E. Westlake. In this 10-minute and 47-second featurette, the novelist discusses his series of “Parker” books and their development. The show doesn’t focus a lot on the specific adaptation for Payback, but it gives us a nice overview of the novels and proves quite informative.

Finally, we get some Previews. Here we locate ads for Braveheart, Babel, and various CBS TV programs on DVD.

A dark, cynical crime fantasy, Payback entertains in a brutal, sadistic manner, but it never manages to be anything more than moderately compelling. It feels stuck in its late 90s era and lacks the spark of better films from its genre. The DVD presents very good picture, solid sound and a nice set of supplements. Though I’m not wild about the movie, this is a strong DVD and will definitely be of great interest to fans of Payback.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.1111 Stars Number of Votes: 9
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