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Overall Rating
3.73

Awesome: 17.7%
Worth A Look50.44%
Average: 22.12%
Pretty Bad: 7.08%
Total Crap: 2.65%

7 reviews, 71 user ratings


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Payback (1999)
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Engagingly nasty Gibson noir."
4 stars

Porter (no first name), the anti-hero of 'Payback,' is the least detestable fish in a sea of sharks. Which doesn't make him a great guy: he's cold, borderline sadistic, and generally a callous bastard.

If Porter were at the center of a clever little art-house thriller, perhaps played by Kevin Spacey or Steve Buscemi, nobody would bat an eye. But Payback is a Hollywood movie starring Mel Gibson, whose heroes of late have usually been noble or likably goofy; Porter is neither. It's a return to basics for Gibson, who came to international prominence as the grim-faced Mad Max, and it's also a risk that perhaps only as big a star as Gibson could have taken.

The risk works. Payback is a gray and ornery comedy of bad manners, in which our only clue that Porter is the hero is that Gibson's playing him. The plot, based on an early novel by "Richard Stark" (i.e., Donald Westlake -- 1967's Point Blank was also derived from it), is another return to basics. Porter has been shot in the back and robbed of his $70,000 share of stolen money; now he wants it back. He won't accept less than $70,000; he doesn't want more than $70,000. Why so fussy? Because someone was willing to kill him to steal it from him; that magic number represents what Porter's betrayer figured his life was worth.

This stuff has been done before -- it was done many times before and after Point Blank -- but sometimes style and attitude make all the difference. Rookie director Brian Helgeland (who won an Oscar for co-writing L.A. Confidential) and cinematographer Ericson Core drain Porter's world of almost all color; everything, including flesh, looks blue-gray and cold to the touch. Payback also unfolds in a universe where time literally seems to have no meaning: Sometimes the attitudes are very '90s, sometimes very '80s, sometimes even '60s, and people are always seen using rotary phones (even in a car!). Helgeland, who also wrote the script (Gibson later brought in Mad Max's Terry Hayes to rework the ending), seems to have shaped the movie as a tribute to bad-ass cinema from all decades and also all countries -- this movie, like Ronin, feels more European than American.

Gibson hardly even cracks a smile here, yet there's humor in his consistent irritability and no-bullshit 'tude (as in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome); if the movie flops, the entertainment pundits will chide Gibson for departing from his loopy Lethal Weapon persona -- as if the hero of that series hadn't started out as a suicidal, alcoholic wreck before gradually getting cutesified. I do wonder, though, why Gibson seems to have a torture scene written into every script; didn't Braveheart satisfy his masochistic streak?

Aside from Gibson, Payback is a wonderfully wretched hive of scum and villainy. William Devane, as a bigwig in "the outfit" (mob), plays his role as a soft-spoken, reasonable CEO; Kris Kristofferson, as an even bigger bigwig, plays his as a pulp-fiction variation on his cruel sheriff in Lone Star; James Coburn pops into the movie as yet another bigwig with a taste for fine suits that exceeds his taste for violence; John Glover, though given far too little to do, brings a bit of zip into his few scenes just by standing there smirking over the brutality to come; David Paymer is funny as usual, as a rabbity smack dealer.

And it's always great to see Gregg Henry, a veteran of several Brian De Palma films (notably Body Double); having accepted that his sourball features prevent him from playing anything but sleazoids, he's perfected it. His character, who gets off on being beaten by a dominatrix and cringes before Devane's calmly discouraging assessment of his status in the outfit, is the freshest creation in the movie.

Maybe in an art-house version of 'Payback,' Gregg Henry would play Porter; as it is, he's the movie's wild card, and Helgeland or Gibson (whoever was smart enough to hire him) may have jump-started a deserving career.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=727&reviewer=416
originally posted: 01/15/07 12:18:25
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2006 Austin Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/23/14 Michael Ervin Great revenge movie! Watch your toes! 5 stars
2/11/12 hurdygurdy man Might work as a comedy, add a joint for a few chuckles. 3 stars
7/24/10 bagwell5 I am a fan of both versions of the film. Great revenge story. Violent with great dialogue 5 stars
10/16/09 Monday Morning Still and always one of the best movies ever. 5 stars
9/26/08 Shaun Wallner Great Movie!! 5 stars
7/22/08 the dork knight Although there is some comedy, Mel stays serious, which is good 4 stars
1/15/07 Gloria Dornin It was good, love Gibson, seen better 3 stars
9/09/06 Michele mel is always enjoyable 3 stars
7/09/06 JIMMY lucy liu makes beautiful dominatrix 4 stars
6/17/06 Agent Sands Perfect for what it is. 5 stars
10/07/05 Klondo I didn't like this movie, but it has Gibson in it, and that's... 3 stars
10/03/05 Indrid Cold Starts out brilliantly, but ends up being a standard revenge movie. 4 stars
8/27/05 Rever_Bear-Trap COULD'VE BEEN BETTER BUT OH WELL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
8/25/05 ES If the dog had died it would have been the movie it was trying so hard to be 2 stars
12/09/04 Kristina Williams i like the cinematography. Movie...meh. 3 stars
11/15/04 sue another gibson movie 3 stars
10/30/04 Archanist_101 It should've had a better script & replace Maria Bello with Gina Gershon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 4 stars
9/06/04 Daveman Gibson's masochism doesn't measure up to that of his audience by the smallest fraction. 1 stars
8/17/04 john bale Indestructable Mel sorts out the baddies in a slick but average thriller 3 stars
6/08/04 PAYNE Yeah it's OK 4 stars
7/05/02 KMG This movie IS HOT! 5 stars
4/15/02 R.W. Welch Pseudo-Noir thrller; not bad if you don't take it seriously. 4 stars
2/10/02 Teymur Fantastic 5 stars
1/22/02 Monster W. Kung Not bad but altogether very unmemorable. 3 stars
11/30/01 The $1.98 Pyramid It wasn't entertaining. Gibson can do much better. 2 stars
9/15/01 Butterbean Lucy Liu was useless in this movie. Payback wasn't as bad as critics say 3 stars
8/28/01 Bueller Score one for the not-so bad, bad guys. 4 stars
6/01/01 Monday Morning How come Jason gets two shots at this? 5 stars
4/24/01 *~Danielle*Ophelia~* (formerly KyLe*BrOfLoVsKi) Entertaining at best, inoffensive at worst. 4 stars
4/24/01 Monday Morning Smart, noir-stylish, totally great comedy "edge" for balance. One of the best. 5 stars
4/05/01 Hawkeye Not a masterpiece, but a decent flick nonetheless. Not for the faint of heart, though. 4 stars
10/13/00 Jason I wasted 2 hours of my life...go to the symphony instead! 2 stars
10/13/00 Josh An awesome rush of a movie. Don't listen to anyone (Jason) who says otherwise. 5 stars
10/13/00 Jason I wasted 2 hours of my life...go to the symphony instead! 2 stars
9/12/00 Jed Don't Believe the critics folks this is a bad movie. 2 stars
7/20/00 Eran entertaining ending! 4 stars
7/11/00 Terrie Smith Not bad; the usual gung-ho performance from Gibson but Henry almost walks away with it. 3 stars
6/28/00 malcolm cool as hell. any Frank Miller fans out there? 4 stars
1/04/00 Gotham DK Gibson kicking ass instead of showing it. Not one of those repeat watch movies. 3 1/2. 3 stars
11/04/99 Mickey "Father Death" MacJohnstmyster I've finally found something that sucked more than Lethal Weapon 4 . 2 stars
10/21/99 Tony Daquano Movies should be more like this 5 stars
10/13/99 "JED" One of mel's weakest he should stick to Lethal weapon. 2 stars
9/30/99 Brentus unpredictable, good, but it lacked something???? 4 stars
9/05/99 The Bomb 69 average written all over it 3 stars
6/15/99 Ver-Jun Without a doubt the worst film I've seen in 3 years!!! 1 stars
6/15/99 David The look is good, the cruelty is good, I just wish I could see Helgeland's original version 3 stars
4/15/99 Jon Jackson Funny and slick, but enough with the blue! 4 stars
4/13/99 Go Swans Gains bonus points for being quick, fast and short. Mel's best since Ransom. 4 stars
4/06/99 Irzal Rinaldi It's really a cruel movie 3 stars
4/01/99 Thanatos This might be a remake, but it was still one of the best movies i've seen all year! 5 stars
3/18/99 Scott Stipe Man.....It rocked 5 stars
3/14/99 Matt the 'invincible' main character almost ruined it, but he was an asshole, so it was ok 4 stars
3/13/99 16 in. of swingin' meat & a bucket of balls Film Noir fun with almost no morality. Porter (GIbson) makes you afraid of the dark. 5 stars
3/11/99 Bobby Luv Sadism rules baby, lots of fun explosions, mel in graveltone and Devane cranks it up 5 stars
3/07/99 CYaniDERuSH thank god for a noir flick. really liked the touches of dean martin 4 stars
3/05/99 ^Cesaro Kinda like falling down, but with more death. Not quite there yet. Keep trying. 4 stars
3/04/99 Steve Kelley Not as bad as I'd heard, not as good as I hoped. This is not Elmore Leonard. 3 stars
3/04/99 Mr Showbiz A cartton noir that's really just a Mel Gibson vehicle. 3 stars
2/25/99 Viral Messiah Mel Gibson is great in this noir flick! Totally awesome! 4 stars
2/22/99 Jeff HOUN Typical Gibson action movie, pretty good, but could use extra oil in a few of the joints 3 stars
2/21/99 bogeyman Another example of the ads making the movie look a lot better than it really is. 2 stars
2/12/99 Zachary Ryan its better than the review listed here. this movie rocks! 5 stars
2/10/99 poolboy good clean s&m FUN! 4 stars
2/09/99 Jumbles Exciting and fun, but nothing special. Wind Mel up and watch him go! 3 stars
2/09/99 buddy Still great, even though they fiddled with it. 4 stars
2/07/99 Giladani Interesting 90s film with 70s borderline Film Noir sensibilities. Worth a look definitely. 4 stars
2/07/99 Kozmic Great movie,good story, no boredom anywhere in it. 5 stars
2/06/99 Cory Clawson GREAT! 5 stars
1/06/99 The Dude VERY COOL MOVIE -ONE TO SEE 5 stars
12/01/98 Kirgo Would almost rather pull my own teeth out than see that crap again! 1 stars
11/30/98 Lindsay The film was OK. Best part was Lucy Alexis Lieu (from Ally MacBeal). She was very funny. 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  05-Feb-1999 (R)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  04-Mar-1999 (MA)


Directed by
  Brian Helgeland

Written by
  Brian Helgeland
  Richard Stark

Cast
  Mel Gibson
  Maria Bello
  William Devane
  David Paymer
  Gregg Henry



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