Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Payback: Straight Up - The Director's Cut (1999)

(Image from Cinema Blend)

Payback: Straight Up - The Director's Cut (1999)

This is one of those interesting situations where a director who lost control of his film gets to come back and do it his way. I haven't seen the original, Mel Gibson overseen cut of Payback, but Brian Helgeland's Director's Cut (which uses around half of the theatrical footage and features a new score, new colour timing, a different tone throughout and a whole new ending) is a thoroughly enjoyable crime thriller. It's a remake of the 1967 Lee Marvin film Point Blank, which was pretty good but not quite as fun as this one. Mel Gibson stars as Porter, a thief who is betrayed after a risky heist by his partner in crime Val (Gregg Henry) and his wife Lynn (Deborah Kara Unger) and left for dead. He survives, and comes back to town looking for... you guessed it - PAYBACK! Plus, he wants returned his share of the heist money. His quest leads him to cross paths with an old flame, Rosie (Maria Bello), some crooked cops, and the mysterious 'syndicate' that is responsible for organized crime in the city.

'Payback' is a vicious and violent thriller that takes place in a crime ridden, mafia controlled, corrupt city. There are many elements of black humour, but overall it's a fairly somber affair. Gibson is somewhat aloof as the relentless Porter but he doesn't come across as an invincible superman either; he also doesn't appear nearly as angry as Lee Marvin did. He lives by a simple code, and he wants his money back as a matter of principle - it doesn't matter to him if he has to go all the way up to the syndicate's top brass to get it. The rest of the performances are pretty good, with Gregg Henry's sleazy Val being especially memorable. Oh, and Lucy Liu pops up as a silent, violent seductress - natch! The story is fairly straightforward, with the manner in which Porter goes about his business being almost comical. There are some excellent scenes in here, like Porter's confrontation with some of the senior brass of the syndicate, his exchanges with the corrupt detectives, and his showdown with Val. The action sequences are infrequent but effective - the finale in particular is quite thrilling.

It's not a classic, but as a streamlined old fashioned crime thriller complete with an appropriate score, a fun central performance, violence, and humour, it's well above average. Entertaining and memorable; while Gibson is no Lee Marvin, I prefer 'Payback: Straight Up' to its progenitor.


Miedy said...

I haven't seen the original either, just this one and I don't really like it unfortunately. My husband who saw both prefer the original. I heard the story about the director, is pretty interesting situation indeed.

Scott Stambler said...

i thought the score was awesome....

Antimatter said...

Miedy: I imagine this is more of a 'guy flick'. :) I need to check out the original now, since it appears that there is no consensus on which is better. Everyone seems to think they're just different.

Scott: Well, you would! I thought the score was very good, old school and really in synch with the tone of the film.

Scott Stambler said...


Thanks. I couldn't resist. We all had a great time with Helgeland when he got to edit his version of the film. There are many comparisons and opinions as to which version is 'better'. As objective as I can be - watching the film I am reminded that Mel Gibson is a helluva an actor and Gregg Henry (IMO) is superb. All the performances are better than spot on - all the way to the dope dealer showing up at the house.

Miedy - if you're a film buff the Straight Up version has some great interviews with Helgeland and Gibson about the gyrations they both went through in bringing Straight Up to light. It's not your typical DVD commentary.

Antimatter said...

Gibson has badass down pat. :) And that dope dealer scene was excellent.

I'll be checking out the original cut for completeness sake now. Should be interesting. As for Helgeland, I read an illuminating interview with him at Chud, which is what got me interested in the film. Plus, I really liked A Knight's Tale, and L.A. Confidential is one of my favourites.

All the best with your upcoming / future projects. (IMDB says Tropic Thunder? Nice...)