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Payback [1999 film] (1999)

by Brian Helgeland (Director/Screenwriter), Terry Hayes (Screenwriter)

Other authors: Maria Bello (Actor), James Coburn (Actor), Jack Conley (Actor), William Devane (Actor), Bill Duke (Actor)7 more, Mel Gibson (Actor), John Glover (Actor), Gregg Henry (Actor), Kris Kristofferson (Actor), Lucy Liu (Actor), David Paymer (Actor), Trevor St. John (Actor)

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Mel Gibson is Porter, a career criminal bent on revenge after his partners in a street heist betray him.

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Payback (1999)

Mel Gibson – Porter

Gregg Henry – Val Resnik
Maria Bello – Rosie
David Paymer – Arthur Stegman
Lucy Liu – Pearl
William Devane – Carter
Kris Kristofferson – Bronson
James Coburn – Fairfax
Bill Duke – Det. Hicks
Jack Conley – Det. Leary
Deborah Kara Unger – Mrs Lynn Porter

Screenplay by Brian Helgeland and Terry Hayes, based on the novel by The Hunter (1962) by Richard Stark.
Directed by Brian Helgeland

Colour. 101 min.


A junkie: ‘Come on, man. They're gonna fuckin’ kill me. They’re gonna fuckin’ kill me.’
Porter [putting a gun against the junkie’s head]: ‘What d'you think I’m gonna do? Worry about me.’

There are movies that make no claims to greatness but bear re-visiting better than some weightier classics. Payback is one such movie. Dark modern film noir, violent, gritty and even witty, it is very entertaining stuff. Brian Helgeland, co-writer of L.A. Confidential (1997), wrote a good revenge story with a bit of romance, corrupt cops, sleazy sadists, crazy Koreans, the mighty Outfit and all that jazz. There are one or two very convenient coincidences (e.g. Johnny’s birthday) and one or two episodes that stretch credibility quite a bit (e.g. the framing of the two detectives), but never mind those. Mr Helgeland is a good director, too; at least, he is no worse than Tarantino whom he shamelessly imitates. He does invest the trite story with its own character in a mythical American city with little daylight and less sun. The dialogue is terse and tart. Here are several examples more:

Porter [voiceover]: Crooked cops. Do they come in any other way? If I’d been just a little dumber, I could have joined the force myself.

Porter [voiceover]: Nobody likes a monkey on his back: I had three, and they were cramping my style. I was gonna’ have to lighten the load.

Porter: Who makes the decisions?
Carter: Well, a committee would make the decision in this case...
Porter: One man... you go high enough you always come to one man... who?

Fairfax: What are you doing this for, man? Is it the principle or something?
Porter: Stop it, I’m getting misty.

Porter: We went for breakfast... in Canada. We made a deal; if she’d stop hookin’, I’d stop shooting people... Maybe we were aiming high.

Mel Gibson can be as cool as anybody when he wants to. He is not entirely unsuccessful in the humorous moments, either. He pulls off a most effective one-man-show here, but there are some bonuses among the supporting cast. Gregg Henry is memorable as the silly and sadistic braggart Val Resnick, and so is David Paymer as a cringe-worthy taxi tycoon with his killer line “You’re not gonna fuckin’ kill me, are you?” Maria Bello is not my idea of a gorgeous blonde, but she does a fine job with her small but important part. Nice to see cameos by James Coburn as a bigwig from the Outfit especially worried about his alligator suitcases and Lucy Liu as a BDSM hooker.

By way of conclusion, a word about related movies. Payback: Straight Up (2006) is Brian Helgeland’s Director’s Cut. The rumour has it that some 30 percent of the 1999 movie was reshot after Mr Helgeland was sacked, so the 2006 version was supposed to fix that. It is shorter (90 min) and in many ways different (including whole scenes and characters) than the “original”. Personally, I like the latter better. The Director’s Cut has brighter colours and lacks the atmospheric visual gloom. It is more brutal (e.g. the fighting scene between Porter and his wife) and less humorous (e.g. the beggar in the beginning is not “cured”). As a story, it has pros and cons: the background is better fleshed out, but the ending is not so satisfying. It is worth seeing as an interesting curiosity, sort of thought-provoking how much you can change a movie by different editing and some outtakes.

Point Blank (1967) with Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson is another adaptation of the same novel, The Hunter (1962) by Richard Stark. It is very lame and very tedious. If you are fan of pretentious posturing on the screen, you might like it. Payback is not a remake of this rubbish but an independent work of art based on the same story, and to my mind a superior film in every possible way. It must not be confused with Payback (1995), a slightly-above-the-average erotic thriller with Joan Severance (I wish she had Maria Bello’s part four years later) and C. Thomas Howell. This is a completely different story, somewhat reminiscent of The Postman Always Rings Twice, and it cannot hold a candle to its later namesake. ( )
1 vote Waldstein | Nov 9, 2017 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Helgeland, BrianDirector/Screenwriterprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hayes, TerryScreenwritermain authorall editionsconfirmed
Bello, MariaActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Coburn, JamesActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Conley, JackActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Devane, WilliamActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Duke, BillActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gibson, MelActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Glover, JohnActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Henry, GreggActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kristofferson, KrisActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Liu, LucyActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Paymer, DavidActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
St. John, TrevorActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed

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