Payback: The Director's Cut Studio: Paramount Pictures Year: 2007 (1999 original theatrical release) Rated: Unrated Length: 90 minutes Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Languages: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround) Subtitles: English Street Date: April 10, 2007 Reveling in the conventions of traditional Film Noir, Payback is the story of a principled robber seeking to reclaim what was taken from him after a double-cross. To do that Porter (Mel Gibson) must take on the Syndicate, a disconnected mafia organization that rules the city’s seedy underbelly, in a blaze of guns, fists, and double-crosses. Like all films of this genre, the conclusion is less important than the experiences in getting there; it is in the varied characters you meed along the way. Payback manages to keep a dark and gritty tone despite a large number of daytime exteriors, in the end producing the best modern Film Noir-esque film this side of Brick. This new cut hardens the film’s protagonist and streamlines the narrative, creating a movie that sprints to its inevitably-ambiguous conclusion. About all I remember of the original cut of Payback was that it felt compromised; like Film Noir-lite. Director Brian Helgeland (who was fired before the film was completed) has been allowed to return--a la Richard Donner and Superman II--and he has put together a wonderfully sadistic movie. The protagonist is not a good man: he is a criminal. The complexity that Gibson brings to the role, however, creates a multi-faceted character that the audience begins to empathize with, despite his flaws. Helgeland’s revisions make Porter less-likeable and simultaneously more compelling. He’s less Riggs (from Lethal Weapon) and more Sterling Hayden. And that is a good thing. The revised Payback excises about ten minutes from the narrative, most of the fluff added after test audiences and studio executives bristled at the film’s harsh tone, and removes the addition of Kris Kristofferson’s Bronson. The remainder is excellent. The tone is dark and straightforward, the narrative continually driving forward. Aside from Maria Bello, whose lines often seem rushed and without proper manner, the acting is pitch-perfect. Lucy Liu is brilliant as a sadomasochistic prostitute with ties to the Chinese mafia, as are the businesslike-mobsters William Devane and James Coburn. I first heard tell of this cut of the film in Ed Brubaker’s most recent issue of the comic book “Criminal,” after Patton Oswald offered his services as killer in order to obtain a 16mm print in an essay at the end of the book. I am happy to report that nobody will have to die in order for you to see this film; it’ll just cost you a couple of dollars. And it will be money well-spent. Video: The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is by-and-large unremarkable, though slightly disappointing. Some of the long-shots are bleary and soft, others feature a great deal of fine detail. The darker scenes, surprisingly, look a lot more vibrant and detailed, while the daylight sequences are washed-out. None of them look terrible, mind you, but I feel like the age and mistreatment of this print have resulted in limitations visible on DVD. The quality is not enough to distract me from revisiting the film; it was merely adequate. Audio: This is where the disc shines: the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is stellar. The dialogue is clean, the music cues are subtle and well-distributed, and the sound effects (gunfire and the like) come from every channel. While it is not completely immersive it definitely works to pull the viewer into the dingy world Porter and his comrades occupy. Extras: Packed with features, this new edition of Payback is a tight example of what should be done with new versions of films. The highlight is the commentary by writer/director Brian Helgeland. The filmmaker sits alone, recounting how the film was shot, his struggles in making it, and the marking some of the changes in this new cut in a wonderfully conversational style. The location documentaries are fantastic. Mixing behind-the-scenes footage with a narrative about the growth and development of both the movie and its writer/director Brian Helgeland, these featurettes expand the world of the movie and how it was created, but never wearing out its welcome. Although the first, based in Chicago, is more of a Helgeland love-fest, the two paired are an honest, revealing look at the work of a first-time filmmaker and the creation of the characters who inhabit this dark, noir world. Helgeland and editor Kevin Stitt, and Mel Gibson sit down to reflect on what lead to Helgeland’s replacement in a featurette about cutting Payback, “Same Story, Different Movie.” The principles, including Gibson talking from his production perspective, are very candid about their issues, illuminating a lot about the pains of constructing a film outside the studio system. Donald Westlake, author of the original story, “The Hunter,” that was the inspiration for Point Blank and Payback, talks about the book he wrote some forty years ago. Calling it a “book for men,” he goes through the creative process, including the stripped-down, coarse language and the inspirations for his dark, noir tone. Additionally there are some previews for other Paramount/Icon sets, including the brilliant Braveheart and the mediocre Babel. All but these previews are in Anamorphic widescreen, probably coming from their inclusion on HD DVD. Overall: The more I reflect upon it, the more I enjoyed this new version of Payback. Dark and gritty, this cut has far less personality and, resultantly, is even more enjoyable. The film is uncompromising in its drive for revenge, accurately reflecting the personality of its protagonist.