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The Cinematic Katzenjammer: Sept 9: Payback


Sept 9: Payback

"Porter is shot by his wife and best friend and is left to die. When he survives he plots revenge."
Directed by: Brian Helgeland, Rated: R, 100 minutes

In a recent discussion I had with the guys of As You Watch (my podcast), we discussed our favorite revenge movies. Bubba of Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights mentioned that one of his favs is Payback, the 1999 Mel Gibson movie of sweet, sweet, revenge. I had seen the film years ago and decided to revisit it for the blog today, and while it's a pretty good movie, it's not as special as I remember it being. The film does do a great job at reminding is that Mel Gibson was once a badass and that he wasn't always hating Jews, making Jesus movies, or beating his significant other (well, he could have, but as we weren't aware of it at the time, he still had his couple of decades of awesome). 

Is this the face of a maniac psycho or one of the world's greatest super villains? 

Payback follows Porter (Gibson), a criminal who does whatever he wants, to whomever he wants. His best friend and partner, Val (Gregg Henry) brings a job to Porter, where they plan on robbing the Triads (I think at least? Whenever there's an Asian gang you can just assume it's the Triads). Once the heist is over with, Val and Porter's wife, Lynn (Deborah Kara Unger) betray Porter, shooting him in the chest and leaving him for dead. Of course, this being a revenge movie and all, Porter doesn't die but comes back looking for vengeance. As it turns out, there was just enough money in the heist to cover Val's gambling debts (about $140,000) and Porter goes through the chain of command seeking his mini fortune, just because it's his. Dirty cops and of course the Triads want their money back and as Porter looks for what he thinks his rightfully his, his enemies grow closer. Throw in a sexy little part for Lucy Liu and some other recognizable faces (David Paymer, William Devane, and Mario Bello), and Payback proves to be a fun little film. It's also worth mentioning that it's pretty damn violent, but what revenge flick isn't?

Ooh. 'Dem Freckles!

The best part of Payback is seeing Gibson kick a lot of ass. As he's the anti-hero we're supposed to root for, he seems to be immortal, cutting down or shooting everyone that gets in his way. Nothing can stop him and it's the best part of the film. He's an asshole of epic proportions, but when he exists in a crime world with even bigger assholes, he's the guy to root for. He's all about shooting first and asking questions later and the amount of times we seem pulling a trigger sooner than you'd expect leave the film packed full of surprises. By all means, he's no expert marksman or kung-fu master, but he doesn't let the 'bad guys' finish sentences, just finishes them off because he's pissed off at everyone. Porter is a great character that I feel would have been great in multiple movies, as though Porter is to Gibson what Harry Callahan is to Clint Eastwood. The only that's missing is a handful of catchphrases and a .44 Magnum. 
Gibson beats his lovers, Eastwood talks to empty chairs. What has become of this world?!

Sure Payback is fun, but by all means it's no perfect film. There are a handful of pacing problems in the film, especially when it comes to developing the characters. When Porter's on fire, it's so much fun to watch, but when he calms down for a drink or a conversation, you just want thinks to get moving even quicker. Even the plot, which is so direct in its motive, is not the strongest of stories. However, Mel Gibson saves Payback from being incredibly forgettable with his charisma and badass-appeal. He turns an otherwise average movie into something worth watching and is the main reason I'd recommend it. 

The Good:
Mel Gibson kicking ass and showing the world he wasn't always off his rocker
The Bad:
a weak story that leaves a lot to be desired that focuses a little too much on character building and not enough on the violence
The Ugly:
realizing how bad the movie would really be had Mel Gibson not starred in it

Overall: 6.7/10


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At September 9, 2012 at 4:47 PM , Blogger Bubbawheat said...

Did you watch the theatrical, or the director's cut? Aside from the Kris Kristofferson role that we talked about on the pod, there's also some changes in pacing, and a different score. I need to watch it again too, though I'd like to get a hold of the theatrical cut again.

At September 9, 2012 at 5:03 PM , Blogger EFC said...

Going with what Bubbawheat mentioned, the Netflix Instant version is the director's cut, if that's the one you watched. Only Netflix didn't identify it as such and as a result, there a quite a few complaint comments on the Netflix page along the lines of "THIS ISN'T THE PAYBACK I REMEMBER!!!" I haven't seen the theatrical cut in a while, but I do recall Porter being more of a likable anti-hero (as you described in the review) in that one, whereas in the director's cut he really is the baddest of the bad guys that occupy the Payback world. The two cuts of Payback are great examples of how the deletion/addition of certain scenes can change the entire tone of a movie.

At September 9, 2012 at 6:05 PM , Blogger Nick said...

Watched it on Netflix, so no Kristofferson. At least I don't remember seeing him. It would be certainly interesting to compare the two.

At September 9, 2012 at 6:07 PM , Blogger Nick said...

I need to see the theatrical for sure. Really want to compare the two.


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