"Payback" is back, this time the way the director envisioned the film, not the suits. "You don't make pictures for the elite," producer/actor Mel Gibson says today, explaining why Paramount and Warner Bros. took the noirish gangland movie away from freshman director Brian Helgeland. After 10 days of reshoots, a new final (third) act was tacked on, narration was added a la "Blade Runner" and Kris Kristofferson walked on as a new major character designed to neaten things up. Audiences still were amazed how brutal the Gibson character was when they had to "Get ready to root for the bad guy," as the marketing had it. Critics wrote it off as another promising movie desperately in search of an ending.
Same old story about artists and Hollywood, but this time came a happier ending. In 2005, Paramount and Gibson gave Helgeland another shot at the film, eight years after its release. The tapes turned up missing, so Helgeland and his editor recut the film using film. And so we have "Payback: Straight Up -- the Director's Cut."
Now, this is one hard-boiled movie. Gibson plays Porter, a small-time robber who comes back to town looking for the partner who stole his loot and his wife. While collecting on his karmic debts, Porter takes on the syndicate and the Asian drug dealers, beats up a woman (a scene the studios wouldn't touch back then), and achieves a significant body count. Supporting actors Lucy Liu, Gregg Henry and Maria Bello all do fine work.
Paramount's release doesn't include the 1999 version for comparison, unfortunately. Extras include a polite director's commentary, but the one to catch is "Same Story -- Different Movie," which spends a half hour on the resurrection. The witnesses keep it civil, but you get a good feel for what was what.
On the DVD version of "Payback," the audio and video are suitably rousing. They're even stronger on the high definition discs although in places the contrasts and colors seem too jacked up for a gritty film that drifts in and out of bleach-bypass scenes. Extras are the same on all three versions.
Yeah, it's early, but I'm putting this into the best DVDs of the year category.
"Payback" comes from author Donald E. Westlake's crime novel "The Hunter," first filmed as "Point Blank" with Lee Marvin, an even better film from 1969.