Newest Review: ... him. Gibson plays Porter, a hard man bank robber who along with his partner Val Resnick played by Gregg Henry rob a bank however Resn... more
OUCH, THAT HURT!
Member Name: Mauri
Advantages: Maria Bello, action sequences
Disadvantages: Messy plot, confused direction
Tough guy criminal Porter (we never find out his first name) and his gang made up of his wife Lynn and criminal acquaintance Val decide to do a crash and snatch job stealing the illicit takings of a Chinese gang. All goes smoothly and although the £140000 dollars is not as much as Porter was expecting they seem to have got away unscathed. However Porter is double crossed by both his partners in crime and after being shot in the back is left for dead. Of course he isn’t dead otherwise it would be a very short movie and once recovered his only thought is to get his money back hence the ‘Payback’ in the title and also ‘payback’ on those that double crossed him. However things are not that simple for Porter since his one time accomplice Val has used the money to get Mob connections. With the help of high class call girl Rosie our hero Porter has to weave a treacherous path avoiding the attentions of rogue policemen, the ‘syndicate’ and the Chinese gang bent on revenge for the original robbery in a search for his cut of the money.
This film is a bit of a mess. It seems unable to decide what tone it is trying to set. There are moments of pure comedy/farce that stand awkwardly next to the extreme violence on show in almost every other scene.
Gibson gives an odd performance. He plays Porter as ruthless killer with a heart!? At times the character shows the cheeky charm that endeared the ‘Lethal Weapon’ films to many people and yet he is also capable of cold-blooded murder. Yes, the people he kills might have deserved everything they get but still is doesn’t sit to well with what is supposed to be a sympathetic, heroic character.
Gibson is the lead and the film very much revolves around him but there is a very talented ensemble cast to back him up. First mention must go to the lovely Maria Bello who is fast becoming one of my favourite actresses. Many will not recognise the name but will remember the face from many supporting roles she has taken on over the years mainly in TV, she was probably best known for her part as Dr. Anna Del Amico in ER before breaking through in the movies. ‘Payback’ was her biggest role at the time it was made and while she is certainly still in a supporting role as Gibson’s love interest there are sign even here that she is capable of much more, which she goes on to prove later with fine performances in ‘The Cooler’ (2003) and the excellent ‘A History of Violence’ (2005). I must stress that ‘Payback’ is not in the same league as those films more a ‘catalogue of violence’ than a history of…but it still was an interesting film partly because of the incongruity of the story, the tone it set and the strangeness of the performances.
The weirdest character is Pearl the sado-masochist prostitute played by Lucy Liu who relishes giving and receiving a good beating. In a series of bizarre scenes with likeminded Val we witness them hitting each other in some kind of comedic foreplay to sex. All very odd.
The film seems to change from one thing to another with every turn. There is a sombre scene where someone dies from a drugs overdose quickly followed by a slightly comic but violent exchange between Porter and a small time crook. Payback also seems to aping the film noir genre with the main character employing voice over narration to explain the story but even this is not consistent and the darker atmosphere gives way to lighter comic exchanges.
The violence is the one theme that can be seen to run consistently through the whole of the story but even in this the director seems to be inconsistent in the way he decides to handle it. Some is truly brutal and graphic which makes the movie fully deserve its 18 certificate but yet again other violent moments are no more than comic book. The adult certification is also deserved for the strong language and scenes of drug abuse although there isn’t a lot of sexual content surprising since all the female characters seem to be call girls.
It feels like the film is desperately trying to be a gritty crime thriller but despite its graphic violence it fails to convey any realism. Buildings blow up and cars crash in the middle of town with little or no consequence for bystanders, never is a wailing police or fire engine siren heard. The only two policemen that appear in the film are the crooked ones that always seem to be in the right place at the right time managing to cover the whole of the city in their one patrol car.
The director responsible for this messy thriller is Brian Helgeland who is a relative newcomer to the director’s chair having only one other movie of note ‘A Knight Tale’ on his CV. He is better known for his screenwriting having been responsible for ‘LA Confidential’ and ‘Mystic River’ two very tightly scripted films. Having such pedigree as a writer one wonders what went wrong with the script writing in this movie. I suspect that the overbearing presence of Mel Gibson’s star rating coupled with the Helgeland directorial inexperience made it difficult for him to direct with the freedom needed and too much emphasis was placed on turning Gibson’s on screen persona from the ‘weird but loveable’ of the ‘Lethal Weapon’ franchise to the ‘violent but loveable’ version we see here.
To add a little ‘Tarantinoesque’ (made up word) feel to the project a suitably quirky but retro-hip soundtrack has been chosen including such diverse tracks as ‘It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World’ (James Brown), ‘Ain't That A Kick In The Head’ (Dean Martin) and ‘The Thrill Is Gone’ (B.B. King) but again they feel out of context for the movie and seem incongruous with the scenes they are supposed to be accompanying.
The cast also includes some real heavyweight veterans in the shape of James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson as the Mob bosses Porter has to contend with. Neither is stretched in their role but their adds a little extra interest to the story and Coburn especially even in this is last proper roles before his death in 2002 still show the ease and charm that has always made him a natural film star.
CAST & THINGS
Mel Gibson .... Porter
Gregg Henry .... Val Resnick
Maria Bello .... Rosie
David Paymer .... Arthur Stegman
Bill Duke .... Det. Hicks
Deborah Kara Unger .... Mrs. Lynn Porter
John Glover .... Phil
William Devane .... Carter
Lucy Liu .... Pearl
Jack Conley .... Det. Leary
Kris Kristofferson .... Bronson
Marc Vann .... Gray
James Coburn .... Justin Fairfax
Directed by Brian Helgeland, run time 100min- certificate 18.
If any film buff reading this have had their memory jogged and start thinking of a much earlier film ‘Point Blank’ (1967) starring Lee Marvin there is a very good reason for this both films are adaptations of ‘The Hunter’ a novel by Donald E Westlake (under the name of Richard Stark). However while the original was minor classic, the brooding quietly raging Lee Marvin perfect for the role of the wronged man bent of brutal retribution this later version doesn’t quite hit the mark.
Overall I’ve been quite critical of the movie and yet there is a lot that it can be commended on. The action sequences are thrilling and despite the clunky switches of tone and atmosphere the director does manage to maintain a fair amount of suspense until the very end. The supporting cast is good and while not overly tested the big names do perform.
So if you are looking for a fairly entertaining ‘no brainer’ action filled movie with some nice shots of Lucy Liu as a Dominatrix this could be the movie for you…
© Mauri 2006
Summary: Entertaining but derivative and violent crime thriller