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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: Payback: The Director's Cut



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#1 of 15 OFFLINE   JustinCleveland

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Posted March 24 2007 - 06:37 AM

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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.

#2 of 15 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted March 24 2007 - 07:08 AM

Payback has always been a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. Do you know when this will be released?

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#3 of 15 OFFLINE   TheLongshot

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Posted March 24 2007 - 08:39 AM

I'd actually be interested in this. I kinda liked it when I was in the theater, and wouldn't mind seeing a new cut. Jason

#4 of 15 OFFLINE   Colin Jacobson

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Posted March 24 2007 - 09:05 AM

Street date is April 10 - surprised the review doesn't mention that...
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#5 of 15 OFFLINE   JustinCleveland

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Posted March 24 2007 - 09:15 AM

Thanks for the assist, Colin. You should start your own website, you know so much!

#6 of 15 OFFLINE   ErichH

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Posted March 24 2007 - 10:00 AM

`Man, That's Just Mean!'


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#7 of 15 OFFLINE   Colin Jacobson

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Posted March 24 2007 - 01:45 PM


Nah, it'd never fly! Posted Image
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#8 of 15 OFFLINE   dan fritzen

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Posted March 24 2007 - 03:44 PM

Now I am going to have to watch the original version, I thought Kris Kristofferson was a good chunk of the movie, isn't it his son Mel Gibson kidnaps?
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#9 of 15 OFFLINE   Tim Glover

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Posted March 24 2007 - 04:45 PM

I was hopeful of getting this one on HD DVD but I may just rent. Sure would be nice to have both cuts on the disc. I liked the theatrical Payback rather well. Posted Image

#10 of 15 OFFLINE   JustinCleveland

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Posted March 25 2007 - 01:54 AM

That whole subplot is gone. The explanation as to why, as given in the commentary, makes sense: It isn't in Porter's character to take hostages. He's more the type of guy to go in and just take what he wants. Bronson is now a disembodied female voice that James Coburn and William Devane call to gather assistance. I really, really liked this movie but also recognize that it isn't going to be for everyone. It's dark and not nearly as charming as the first cut. This hard-boiled version is, however, a much better film.

#11 of 15 OFFLINE   Stan

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Posted March 25 2007 - 05:53 AM

Definite buy for me. Looking forward to seeing this without the Kris Kristofferson scenes. Could never quite figure out why, but they just seemed out of place. Like they were add-ons that came later, wrong actor in the role, whatever it was it just felt a little bit off, really interrupting the flow of the movie. Never knew the original director was fired, it will be nice to see his original vision of what the movie should have been.
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#12 of 15 OFFLINE   Joseph J.D

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Posted March 25 2007 - 01:16 PM

I'm also looking forward to picking this one up. I enjoyed the original theatrical release and I want to see how this version stacks up. A shame that the theatrical version isn't included....I guess I'll have to pick up that one as well since it's pretty cheap these days.
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#13 of 15 OFFLINE   Jerome Grate

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Posted March 26 2007 - 02:11 AM

I just erased my S-VHS version for Stan Lee's Condor on Cartoon Network would be good to have. I thought the cinematography was to have the daytime scenes kind of pasty and lacking in vibrant color.
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#14 of 15 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted March 26 2007 - 04:06 AM

Of course, that won't be in the DC. Oh well. What am I thinking? Of course it will. I was thinking that was Kristofferson, but its Coburn.

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#15 of 15 OFFLINE   RickyB

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Posted March 26 2007 - 05:44 AM

I enjoyed this movie although I haven't watched it since it's opening night. I'll check this cut of the film out. With that said I'll never understand the adoration for Brick. I thought it was too cute for it's own good and speaking of good, Meagan Good was the best thing that movie had going.





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