Payback Straight Up The Directors Cut

Cover Art and Menus: 6/10
Not a bad cover shot of a brooding Mel Gibson. He seems a little bit upset about something? Actually the shot is a bit different from the original, and it seems decent enough for this darker version of the 1999 film. Overall the menus and the art are not a bad presentation for this redo.

Features: 9/10

  • Commentary by Writer/Director Brian Helgeland. –  This is some pretty good information on this commentary reel. Helgeland is proud of his original vision, and he comes across as actually really pleased that he is able to offer up the original, darker version of the film that Paramount and Mel Gibson eventually changed.
  • Paybacks Are a Bitch: On Set in Chicago and On Set in LA. –  These two sections are glimpses in to the changes that occurred with the original Payback, and the new director’s cut. The case and crew offer up their take on the differences between the two.
  • Same Story, Different Movie – Creating The Director’s Cut. –  This little piece discusses the way that the movie was changed from the 1999 theater version to the director’s cut. It specifically presents the changes that were made to lighten the tone of the film in an effort to appease the masses, due to the fact that the original Helgeland version didn’t test well with audiences. About the coolest part of this informative short is the presentation of the differences between the two versions. This is a very nice addition, and should be a regular when there are changes made to a film.
  • The Hunter: A Conversation with Author Donald E. Westlake. –  In this 10 minute short, Donald E. Westlake, who wrote the book the Hunter, talks about his the history of his writing. A bit of a strange addition to the film, even though his book was the basis for the film.

The Movie: 7/10
The new version of the 1999 film Payback is actually the old version of the film. Confused? Well, originally Brian Helgeland presented his version of Payback to Mel Gibson, who thought the dark film was good enough to take on the main role. Paramount then got behind the film, and it wasn’t until Helgeland’s vision for the film poorly test screened that someone high up made the decision to change directions. Helgeland was shown the door, and production designer, John Myhre took over the reigns. The result was a reshoot of massive proportions that changed the tone and feel of Helgeland’s idea, and thus the original release of Payback was actually a more comedic, easier to follow film than it was supposed to be. This is what a director’s cuts should be, instead of a few minutes of extra shots that someone tags onto the original in order to justify a new dvd release. Now that I have that off of my chest, this is the film as Helgeland wrote and envisioned, before he was kicked off of the project.

The story of the film remains basically the same – Porter (Mel Gibson) is a criminal who gets screwed over by his crime partner and his own wife, and upon recovering from being shot, he turns his focus towards revenge. Porter is a stubborn, intense person who stops at nothing to get back his share of the loot that was taken form him – a paltry $70,000 (at least for what he goes through.) The story is one that makes you question the sanity, and resolve of Gibson’s character as he works his way back to face off with his ex-friend.

The Straight Up version is a darker version of the theatrical release, and the changes are apparent. I haven’t seen the theatrical version for years, but even I could feel the difference in the two. Kris Kristofferson’s character is gone, as is the voice-over that was originally done by Mel Gibson’s character. It just feels different, and I understand that even the music has drastically changed, as well as the way the films looks (the theatrical version was run through a blue tint for many shots – who knew?) I liked the director’s cut more than I liked the theatrical version, which at the time I thought was a bit disjointed and merely average. Helgeland’s new-old version is just a bit more sharp and a bit more edgy, which I enjoyed. I still can’t say I overly loved the film, but it was better than the version that was released in 1999.

Video & Audio: 6/10
I reviewed the regular DVD release, and as such, none of the high-definition goodness that I have come to rely on was present. The 480p version looks just fine, and with the removal of the blue tint from the theatrical release, the DVD was great. Obviously the HD version of the film would look better, but for the average viewer, this release was quite good. The audio was also crisp and sounded great on my 5.1 system. One of the only issues that I can find with the sound is that there were scenes that didn’t seem to use the rear speakers when they could have. I only mention this because other scenes were full of ambient sounds and rich textures, only to be followed by scenes which almost felt like there was sound only coming from one speaker. It was a bit strange, but overall both the audio and the visual aspects of the film were pretty good

Value: 8/10
I quite enjoyed this take on Payback, and even though I don’t think that either of the versions were classics, it was really incredible to see what changed from Helgeland’s version to the theater release. This is one of the rare occurrences of a director’s cut that really was worthy of a separate release. This is not an extended remix of the theater release, but a completely different version of the film, which was not an afterthought, but the original concept. If for no other reason than to see how much a film can change, this was a great view. I recommend this DVD to just about anyone who loves films, even though I don’t think this is a great film by any stretch of the imagination.

Overall Score 7/10