1999; Rated R; 110 Minutes
Mel Gibson: Porter
Gregg Henry: Val
Maria Bello: Rosie
Deborah Unger: Lynn Porter
Kris Kristofferson: Bronson
Bill Duke: Detective Hicks
David Paymer: Stegman
Bruce Davey and Stephen McEveety; Directed by Brian
Helgeland; Screenwritten by Brian Helgeland and Terry
Hayes; based on the novel "The Hunter" by Richard
Stark (aka Donald E. Westlake)
by DAVID KEYES
say that you can tell a lot about a filmmaker by just watching
one of their movies. It becomes crystal clear, eventually,
that people make movies involving things that they have
exceptional knowledge in. All you have to do is stare at
it, observe it closely, and bingo, you've learned something
about the director and writer. A movie about gangsters,
for instance, would tell us that the filmmakers probably
enjoy cutting lose and aren't afraid of seeing blood, guts,
and severe cussing at the cinema. A movie discussing severe
human disasters like the Holocaust and Titanic would tell
us that the filmmaker has a big heart, and wants to use
it. A movie like "Payback" tells us that the director, cinematographer,
and producers are fans of Mel Gibson, film noir, gangsters,
Martin Scorcese mob pictures, and extreme violence.
all in the inspiration or experience. There's even occasions
when a filmmaker has no familiarity in a subject, yet has
observed it well enough in the past to understand it and
use it to their advantage. Why do I bring this awkward observation
up in a review of "Payback?" Mainly because it helps simplify
the process in which the movie was made. Director Brian
Helgeland and producers Bruce Davey and Stephen McEveety
create a lush and atmospheric film with bits and pieces
taken from numerous Hollywood creations, as if they've been
fans of them for as long as they've been watching movies.
The film noir, for instance, is inspiration in the film's
production; it is shot in pale tones of blue, takes place
in the city, and contains numerous menacing impulses in
the interior, while the surface is fun and exaggerating.
The texture itself is pivotal in giving the film a new look
on many old clichés, and is shot so well, I smell a potential
Academy Award nomination for the cinematographers.
then there's the familiar script attributes: (1) the main
character is a bad guy, (2) the main character is played
by someone who can handle the role well, thanks to his/her
movie past, (3) the violence is extreme, (4) there's lots
of witty gangster-like dialogue, (5) there's a rich supporting
cast, (6) the director pays direct attention to the most
intriguing details of the setup, and (7) most of the story
is simplistic yet fascinating. All of these things are mixed
together in "Payback" with sometimes mixed results. Half
of that probably will not matter, thanks to Mel Gibson,
who plays the 'bad guy' in questioning, a character called
film's setup could have fallen flat on its face, if it weren't
for casting Gibson as this guy. He's the kind of actor whose
experience has allowed him to fill any kind of role successfully;
his screen presence creates its own dignity in whatever
the setup. Casting him, for example, in the role of a politician
would be effective, because his career has seen so many
different roles and so many different personalities that
he'd guarantee immediate success. Besides, the average politician
is no less viscous than his character in "Payback."
film is contrived from a famous novel called "The Hunter,"
which in turn inspired the Lee Marvin classic, "Point Blank."
The story is pretty much routine, but what gives it originality
are the numerous unique characteristics of the main character.
The opening of the film is a narration, of sorts, for the
film to follow. Gibson's great voice says, with clarity
and suspense, "Not many people know what their life's worth.
Mine's worth seventy grand, and since they took it from
me, I'm going to take it back."
begins the story, in which Gibson pursues his money, but
not for one penny more or less. All he wants is $70,000
dollars. Since he was partners with the man who originally
stole the money and shot him in the back, you can easily
tell where the story will go from there. It's violent, funny,
action-packed, and surprising; but a plot summary would
be pointless, since it's simply a nonstop amusing journey
into the world of the 'bad guy,' and how the audience is
won over by his wit and charm.
whole concept makes one big gigantic mistake, however; it
leaps across a canyon and fails to make to the other side.
The movie tries its hardest to allow the audience to feel
comfortable, but all the countless scenes of torture and
wanton violence are uneasy and sometimes inessential. Extreme
gratuitousness is necessary in some films, like the recent
"8MM," but here it is miscalculated, and not very entertaining.
a fine line that movies like this cross, and I guess there's
no way to prevent them from doing so. If you put Mel Gibson
into a film where he wants justice for being cheated, expect
some blood gushing and torture. For his serious fans, that's
going to be enough reason to see him get revenge on his
old partner, but for people who don't appreciate the high
level of violent acts, they will be the ones who want to
be paid back.
1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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