“Payback” (1999) starring Mel Gibson & Gregg Henry / Z-View

Payback (1999)

Director:  Brian Helgeland

Screenplay: Brian Helgeland, Terry Hayes based on THE HUNTER by Richard Stark aka Donald Westlake

Stars: Mel Gibson, Gregg Henry, Maria Bellor, Bill Duke, Deborah Kara Unger, John Glover, William Devane, Lucy Liu, Jack Conley, Kris Kristofferson, Kwame Amoaku, James Coburn and David Paymer.

Tagline: Get ready to root for the bad guy.

The Plot…

Porter is a career criminal.  After ripping off a Chinese gang for $140,000.00, Porter is betrayed by his crime partners.  Shot repeatedly in the back and left for dead, Parker doesn’t die.  Once he recovers, Parker is determined to get his cut of the job back.  Parker doesn’t care that he’s up against the Outfit or that the Chinese gang is gunning for him.  Parker wants his $70,000.00.

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

Payback (1999) is based on Richard Stark’s novel, THE HUNTER.  The novel was first filmed as Point Blank directed by John Boorman and starred Lee Marvin.

Brian Helgeland’s adaptation came to Mel Gibson’s attention who wanted to star in the movie.  Helgeland wanted to direct and it would be his first feature film.  He didn’t think Gibson would want to work with a first-time director.  But Gibson did.

Unfortunately, Gibson and Helgeland didn’t see eye-to-eye on how the film was shaping up.  Two days after winning an Academy Award (Best Screenplay Adaptation for LA Confidential), Gibson had Helgeland fired.  About one third of the movie was reshot.  Paul Abascal is credited with directing the reshoots.  Helgeland still got director’s credit.  This became the theatrical release reviewed here.

A director’s cut was released on DVD in 2007. It features a darker tone (more in line with noir), Kris Kristofferson isn’t in this version, but Sally Kellerman’s voice (as a female version of Kristofferson’s character) is. Some of the characters killed in the theatrical version survive in the director’s cut.

Gibson felt that Helgeland’s version was making his character less assessible to the audience.  After the release of the director’s cut (years later), Helgeland said he could now appreciate the theatrical, audience-friendly cut, but he was shooting a grittier noir film with a less than happy ending.  I think that both films work.

Gibson is excellent as Parker.  He is supported by an amazing cast.  Gregg Henry as Val Resnik is a scene-stealer.  Kudos also to Bill Duke, Deborah Kara Unger, William Devane, Lucy Liu, James Coburn and David Paymer.

Payback (1999) rates 5 of 5 stars.