Hollywood is a place where dreams can be created and destroyed. Where a director’s creativity can be stifled and ultimately squashed down and replaced by more studio friendly fare to bring in the bucks at the box office. And there are few better examples of this than 1999’s Payback, which is now making its debut on Blu-ray.
Based on the novel The Hunter (which in itself was produced as 1967’s Point Blank), Payback is the story of Porter (Mel Gibson) a professional robber who has been double crossed by his wife (Deborah Kara Unger) and supposed friend Val (Gregg Henry). Shot and left for dead, Porter recovers and makes it his mission in life to recover the $70,000 he lost.
With help from his lover Rosie (Maria Bello), he works his way through the underbelly of Chicago, dealing with crooks, dirty cops and working his way up to The Syndicate (Kris Kristofferson, James Coburn and William Devane) and clawing back by any means necessary what is his.
With two versions of the film on this disc, theatrical and director’s cut, there is some strong contrast here to keep you intrigued.
The theatrical version keeps the gritty 70s feel and for that fact the transfer onto 1080p isn’t as impressive as you would hope. This, however, is more than made up for by the ambience of the film itself and the fact it is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek homage to the novel on which it is based.
The main characters, although broken in some way or another, are likeable and you are rooting for them, and the villains are a delicious mix of powerful and evil and any and all comeuppances are richly deserved.
The director’s cut, however, is a totally different kettle of fish with the tone and characters being much darker and a new soundtrack indicating this is not going to be as pleasant a journey. The pacing of the movie is much slower with the lead character of Porter becoming less likeable and thus disengaging the audience who should be behind him. It is a more intense look at the lengths people will go to for the principle of what’s theirs.
Another change within the two movies is the use of what I would call excessive violence in the director’s cut when compared to the theatrical release, specifically the scene in which Porter goes fist to fist with his wife. It is a pointless scene which alienates half the audience within the first thirty minutes of the film.
What the director’s cut does give, though, is a better transfer onto the format with the gritty blues changed to a more natural pallet, thus looking clearer and snappier on screen.
Sound-wise the film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and is far superior in the theatrical cut than the director’s one but it doesn’t take too much away from the viewing experience.
Extras are aplenty on this disc, first you have a behind the scenes documentary called Paybacks are a Bitch which is split into two sections On Location in Chicago and On Set in Los Angeles. Both are an interesting look at how the film came together and the style the filmmaker wanted to get across. At times it does get a bit too self-inflating and the director’s friendship with Richard Donner comes up slighting too many times and begins to grate. There are, however, some fine interviews included with the cast and crew and a few bloopers that will bring a giggle.
Additionally, there is a feature called Same Story – Different Movie: Creating Payback the Director’s Cut which is, frankly, an astonishingly honest look at the history of the movie, how the director eventually left the project, what went wrong and how it was fixed to suit the studio. It also is very interesting to see how they revisited the project years later.
There is also an interesting interview with the author of the original book The Hunter – A Conversation with author Donald E. Westlake, which explains further what the lead character really is all about.
The disc is then rounded off with interview clips with Mel Gibson, Maria Bello, Lucy Liu and James Coburn which really are just your usual promotional gumph.
Although personally preferring the theatrical version of this movie, it’s great to see that the disc gives you the choice to choose how you enjoy one of Mel Gibson’s most underappreciated movies. And the extras are really very good, too.
The Film:The Disc:
Payback is out now on Blu-ray.