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Paramount Home Video presents
Payback Straight Up: The Director's Cut HD-DVD (2007)

Val: They'll kill me, Porter.
Porter: What do you think I'm going to do? Worry about me.

- Gregg Henry, Mel Gibson

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: April 10, 2007

Stars: Mel Gibson, Gregg Henry, Maria Bello, David Paymer
Other Stars: Bill Duke, Deborah Kara Unger, William Devane, Lucy Liu, Sally Kellerman, James Coburn
Director: Brian Helgeland

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, drug use, pervasive language)
Run Time: 01h:30m:06s
Release Date: April 10, 2007
UPC: 097361197944
Genre: film noir

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- BC+B A-

DVD Review

One could certainly consider Payback a troubled production. Shot by a first-time director, Brian Helgeland, in 1997, it was taken away from him and recut and substantial portions of the picture reshot, then the picture was shelved until 1999. At the time, rumors were prevalent that star Mel Gibson was uncomfortable playing a relentlessly bad guy, and the theatrical cut makes him a bit more decent. Whether Gibson had anything to do with the recutting of the picture, he at least offered Helgeland the opportunity in 2005 to finish his film the way he originally wanted to. The result is tighter and more cohesive, and a good deal darker to boot.

Gibson stars as Porter, a man on a mission. A low level thief, he is in pursuit of his double-crossing friend Val (Gregg Henry) who stole $70,000, turned Porter's wife Lynn (Deborah Kara Unger) against him and getting her hooked on heroin in the process. The problem is that Val used the money to buy himself back into the good graces of The Outfit, a Mafia-type organization. But principle is the main thing for Porter, and he's not to be stopped by a little thing like the mob as he works his way up the ladder.

It's certainly a dark revenge tale that'd gratify Kyd, with Porter constantly brutal to nearly everyone he meets other than call girl Rosie (Maria Bello), for whom he had once worked as a driver. Although there's plenty of violence, it doesn't feel like a standard action picture, and the fights and gunplay lack the choreographed nature of such movies. Instead, there's a constant interplay of the darkness inside Porter and the equally strong darkness against which he's struggling by force of will alone. The revenge aspects have a few purely Machiavellian moments that give a delightful frisson reminiscent of The Count of Monte Cristo. The cleverness of the character Porter is first seen when he plans out the heist of a suitcase full of money from a Chinese money laundering ring, taking advantage of the fact that they don't wear seat belts (there's a bit of moral advice for you!).

If Gibson had qualms about being such a bad guy, they were misplaced. With the levity of his Lethal Weapon persona converted into a dark and bitter sardonicism, he makes for a fascinating antihero who repeatedly has opportunities to get far more than his $70,000, but insists that he only wants his money that he's owed. Henry is entertainingly twitchy as he feels alternately superior to and terrified by Porter. The supporting cast features a number of dependable character actors, including William Devane and an uncredited James Coburn as fixers high in the Outfit. Lucy Liu has a memorable turn as Val's dominatrix who starts to get excited by Porter beating the hell out of Val.

This director's cut is actually nearly 15 minutes shorter than the theatrical version. Unlike many "director's cuts" that add a scene or two, this is quite a different picture, lacking the prologue and voiceover, while the entire final act is different (Kris Kristoffersen is nowhere to be seen in this version; his character is only heard over the telephone in the voice of Sally Kellerman instead). Porter's a good deal nastier, particularly in a sequence where he administers a brutally vicious beating to his wife (though to be fair, she had already shot him in the back twice at that point). It's a more coherent and tightly-plotted picture, which also is a good deal more demanding of its audience. Instead of having the backstory spoonfed, the viewer gets to piece it together bit by bit. On the whole, iit's now a much more satisfying picture on any number of levels, and the brassy Peter Gunn style rescoring by Scott Stambler is excellent as well, keeping the picture centered in noirish world.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The HD transfer is a little disappointing. Whether the AVC encode uses excessive filtering or from another cause, the picture tends to be quite soft and lacking in fine detail through most of the running time. The shadow detail and delineation is reasonabliy bood. Alas, it's hardly different from the SD clips in the documentaries when upconverted on an HD player. The director's cut intentionally lacks the blue tone that is seen throughout the theatrical cut, with more natural colors, albeit with a limited palette.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack sounds fine, with reasonably clean sound and mild directionality. The score sounds excellent, with nice presence and fine range. It's not a showpiece overall, but it's quite serviceable.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by writer/director Brian Helgeland
Packaging: Elite
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: DVD-18

Extras Review: The presentation includes plenty of solid extras, though none of them are in high definition. Helgeland contributes a commentary that occasionally lapses into narration, but for the most part he has clear memories of the shooting and has plenty of interesting observations about his work. The documentary Paybacks are a Bitch (49m:39s) is divided into two parts, relating to its Chicago location shoot and the Los Angeles filming. It emphasizes the 1970s feel Helgeland was aiming for, and includes all of the major cast (including Gibson) in current or period interview sequences, with a fair amount of behind-the-scenes footage to boot. It's quite thorough and nicely complemented by the documentary Same Story, Different Movie (28m:54s), which recounts the process by which the film was taken away from Helgeland and remade, and his restoring of the picture to something resembling his original intent. Finally, a featurette offers a chat with author Donald E. Westlake, whose book The Hunter, written under the name Richard Stark was the basis for this movie as well as the Lee Marvin classic Point Blank. Chaptering is thin, and including the theatrical cut would have been nice, but otherwise it's a solid special edition.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

The director's cut is far darker and a tighter picture than the theatrical version, and it's recommended. Alas, the HD transfer is little better than the SD version.


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