Payback is a 1999 American neo-noir crime film written and directed by Brian Helgeland in his directorial debut, and stars Mel Gibson, Gregg Henry, Maria Bello, and David Paymer. But in 2006, Helgeland released his director’s cut that hardly resembles the 1999 theatrical version. The “original” Payback starts off with Mel Gibson (Porter—we don’t know if it is his first or last name) narrating his current predicament; that is, being operated on by some back alley surgeon who takes two bullets out of his back and uses a bottle of booze to sterilize the wound. Porter’s narration begins to tell a story of crime and betrayal showing that there is truly no honor among thieves.
Porter and another criminal named Val Resnik hit a Triad gang for $140,000.00. They made a clean get away and while they were dividing up the money, Porter’s wife shoots him in the back allowing Resnik to take the entire heist so he can buy his way back into an all-powerful organized crime outfit—for some unknown reason Resnick owed this group $130,000.00 and once paid he was allowed back in. While Porter is writhing in agony after his wife shot him, Resnick walks up to him and produces a picture of Porter with another woman which was enough to convince his wife to betray and try to kill him. Both Resnik and the wife leave him for dead.
Somehow Porter makes it to the back-alley surgeon and spends 5 months recovering from his wounds. When he is able Porter sets out to collect his ½ of the heist that was originally agreed upon by the partners in crime. The rest of the film is Porter tracking down Resnik, dealing with corrupt cops and a well-organized criminal enterprise in order to get his $70,000.00. Porter is very clever and outwits anyone that stands in his way. Including putting away two very corrupt cops, killing numerous foot soldiers of the “outfit” as well as the enterprises’ underboss and of course Resnick. Naturally after some grueling fighting and torture Porter recovers his money and gets away with Rosie, a hooker he used to drive for and who helped him in his quest for the cash.
The 1999 theatrical version did well at the box office and world wide grossed approximately $160,000,000.00. Helgeland went on to make a name for himself, writing and directing such films as LA Confidential, Man on Fire and Robin Hood. His one big mistake is a film previously reviewed by the JPFmovies staff The Postman—winner of a Golden Raspberry award because it just sucked.
Then in 2006, Helgeland releases Payback Straight Up The Directors Cut. The new release is materially different than the theatrical version and in the eyes of the JPFmovies staff much better. The Directors Cut is much darker involving an unappealing hero, little humor, some graphic scenes including one where he beats the shit out of his wife and no neat, happy ending but instead a dead dog (named Porter). It is a totally different film, gritty edgy and no one in the story is a “good guy.” But when you think about it, Helgeland was right from an economic point of view to release the 1999 version to the public. The theatrical version is funnier, easier accessible and more spectacular most of the shots show Porter with a light facial expression, almost smirking, and of course the dog survives. Unfortunately, much more appealing to a wider audience which translated into $160,000,000.00.
The Director’s Cut is a much better film, but for narrower, hardcore audience and would not have made nearly as much money. Payback is yet another example of how Hollywood has turned the art of film into nothing more than dollars and cents. JPFmovies recommends that you watch both versions of the film if for no other reason than to see just how powerful editing can be.