Brian Helgeland, the guy who wrote LA Confidential and
Conspiracy Theory, finally gets the chance to direct, with this
unapologetically tough and amoral crime thriller.
Mel Gibson is largely playing against type as the tough,
repellent anti-hero Porter, a small time criminal who specialises in
payroll heists. During a payroll robbery, Porter is double crossed by
his wife and her lover and left for dead. The sleazy Val (Gregg
Henry), who likes his kinky sex with a sadistic edge, owes money to a
shadowy criminal syndicate, known only as The Outfit.
Porter comes looking for vengeance, hoping to recover his half
of the stolen money from Val, who has managed to worm his way back in
with the Outfit. Porter's quest eventually leads him into an
escalating war with the Outfit and its ultimate supremo Bronson (Kris
Kristofferson, wonderful in a small role). But Porter has his own
moral code and is only interested in getting his $70,000, whatever it
takes. "You're doing this for a principle? For $70,000?" asks an
astonished James Coburn. "Hell, my suits cost more than that!"
Also caught in the cross fire are the usual underworld low
life denizens, some crooked cops, and Stegman (David Paymer), a slimy
taxi despatcher and small time drug dealer with ambitions to join the
Outfit. In Porter's world there are no innocent bystanders. Porter's
only ally is Rosie (ER's Maria Bello), a high priced call girl for
whom he has a soft spot.
Payback is actually a remake of John Boorman's tough and
visually stylish 1967 crime thriller Point Blank, which featured Lee
Marvin. That film was also again loosely remade in 1974, as The
Outfit, with Robert Duvall playing the role of the vengeance seeking
criminal. Like its two predecessors, Payback has been based on The
Hunter, a novel written by Richard Stark (a pseudonym used by Donald E
Westlake, when he wanted to break away from comic capers like The Hot
Rock, etc, and write tough, violent, genre thrillers).
And Payback is certainly violent! Gone is the disposable
comic book like violence of Gibson's Lethal Weapon series, replaced
with a more disconcerting, vicious, callous and gratuitous violence.
Helgeland's direction is certainly proficient and pacy, and he revels
in the graphic blood letting. Helgeland peppers the film with many
noir like touches, and Payback also has a deliberately old fashioned,
'70's look about it. Helgeland also adds a touch of dark humour to
proceedings. He wastes few moments, and his crisp and stylish
direction is the perfect cinematic equivalent of Stark's terse prose.
Gibson was apparently unhappy with the tyro director's
finished film, and reshot about 30%, including the final scenes,
giving Helgeland's original vision a darker tone. Gibson also brought
in Kristofferson to play the mob boss.
Gibson brings a hard, unforgiving edge and weary quality to
his performance as a ruthless criminal, although his unsympathetic
choice of role here may come as something of a surprise to many of his
fans. The performances of the supporting cast are solid, with
Kristofferson, an uncredited Coburn, and William Devane oozing smarmy
sincerity as the triumvirate who rule the Outfit.
Although a slickly produced crime thriller, Payback is also
very violent, and one of Gibson's nastier and more disposable efforts.
Copyright © 2000 Greg King