Payback * * * *


Director: Brian Helgeland.
Screenplay: Brian Helgeland.
Starring: Mel Gibson, Gregg Henry, Maria Bello, Deborah Kara Unger, Lucy Liu, David Paymer, John Glover, Bill Duke, Jack Conley, Freddy Rodriguez, William Devane, James Coburn, Kris Kristofferson.

“L.A. Confidential” screenwriter Brian Helgeland makes his directorial debut with this remake of John Boorman’s “Point Blank”. The commanding presence of Lee Marvin may be gone but this time we get an uncompromising, bad-ass Mel Gibson taking centre stage.

Armed robber Porter (Gibson), is double-crossed, shot in the back and left for dead by his ambitious partner Resnick (Gregg Henry) and junkie wife (Deborah Kara Unger), who also take $70,000 from him. Once the bullets are removed and he’s fighting fit again, he chases down a parade of low lives in a violent bid to get even and grab his share of the loot.

We are introduced to Porter during the opening credits as he steals from a homeless man, doesn’t tip his waitress, and basically just shows a mean-spirited disregard for everyone around him. He’s a deliciously nasty character and probably Gibson’s finest role to date. This is a gritty modern noir with everything you could possibly want. It has the voice-over, an anti-hero, arch enemies, femme fatales and also a sense of humour. Not to mention having a great seventies feel to it, and boasting three prominent seventies actors in William Devane, Kris Kristofferson & James Coburn as the crime lord’s Porter is out to get. Despite all this though, it seems everything I liked about this film was (surprisingly) the studio’s doing. Helgeland was sacked during the making of the film and as a result, he released his director’s cut at a later date. One of these studio additions is a wonderful monochromatic look with the colour desaturated, adding further weight to a Film-Noir. I haven’t seen Helgeland’s cut yet but I doubt it’ll change my opinion of this version and I never thought I’d find myself saying I like what a studio has done to a film. All the performances are delightfully sleazy or menacing with the highlights being Gregg Henry who lends some excellent support as Porter’s sleazy double-crossing partner and Gibson has never been better. Like a cross between the ruthlessness of his “Mad Max” and the craziness of his “Lethal Weapon” characters.

It may leave a bad taste for some but I found this to be an uncompromising and highly enjoyable guilty pleasure.

Mark Walker


2 Responses to “Payback * * * *”

  1. I really like this flick too. I think I went to see it 4 or 5 times in the cinema (there was nothing else good out that week), but the director’s cut surprised me by being both really different and really good. Aside from removing that ‘bleach-bypass’ look, the whole 3rd act is replaced. Kris Kristofferson isn’t in it at all, there’s no ‘Johnny’, it’s actually a lot more of a stereotypical noir ending. I got my DVD as region 1 from amazon, but it’s worth tracking down. It’s got some cracking extras too.


    • I think some of the criticism this received was unwarranted. I liked it a lot. I will check out that director’s cut now. A proper Noir ending sounds good but I really liked the desaturation. I’d miss that. Thanks man.


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