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Payback - Straight Up - The Director's Cut

Paramount // Unrated // April 10, 2007
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Matthew Hinkley | posted April 12, 2007 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

There are a lot of fans that are going to be torn with this one. The original "Payback" was a great movie, and now with a new release some fans could be a little upset to find out that some things have been changed from the original in the Directors Cut. On the other hand, some fans will absolutely love the new take on this gritty, uncut edition.

Porter (Mel Gibson) is double crossed by his wife (Deborah Kara Unger) and his partner Val (Gregg Henry) for $70k. After being shot in the back by his wife, he is presumed dead, but now Porter is mysteriously back and out for revenge. He finds his heroin-addicted wife which helps lead him to Val, but his money has gone to the crime Syndicate. Porter works his way up the ladder through thugs and captains, stopping at nothing to get his share of the money back.

"Payback Directors Cut" differs from the original in many ways. The new Directors Cut is more brutal and a lot grittier. There is one scene in the original that we feel for Porter as he learns of his wife using drugs, but in the Directors Cut we see him brutally beat her when he finds out of her drug use. I honestly almost had to look away while he was hitting her and really had a hard time thinking of Porter as a good man. Another difference in the Directors Cut is that it doesn't even have a 3rd act. It has been completely removed, and honestly I think fits much better then the original.

Visually "Payback" is outstanding. I really enjoyed the darkness that Helgeland finally was able to get across to his audience. If you don't know the back-story, you should definitely watch the special features, but I will give you just a quick rundown. Helgeland originally filmed the Directors Cut as the way he wanted the movie, but studios shot it down and he ended up leaving and a new cut was done with Mel Gibson leading the team. So here we get Helgeland's vision of what "Payback" was supposed to be. Some fans will definitely be torn between the two but once you watch it, there is no mistaking that Helgeland had a vision, and that vision completely differs from the original.

Running almost 15 minutes shorter then the original, Helgeland puts us in the shoes of Porter, but without the sympathy. He makes Porter more of a criminal and not a man that we try and feel for immediately. Helgeland wanted our decision of sympathy to be tough...Porter may be a decent man inside, but he is first and foremost a thief with personal demons that need to be dealt with. When I realized that the movie ended without it's 3rd act, I was blown away. No more toe crushing...what??? But altogether the ending to me was a much better fit, I think Helgeland wanted us to make the decision on how we felt about Porter...the original film pushes us to like Porter in the end.

Overall, a very nice new release. I can't stress enough, there are going to be debates. It is all going to come down to a matter of opinion. The fact that "Payback Directors Cut" is so different does not stop me from watching it and thoroughly enjoying it.



Here we get a very nice transfer for this release of "Payback." Overall detail is nice with some great accents on facial features during close-ups. The only time detail is lost is during a few scenes the blacks take over and in the shadows you lose detail pretty quickly. Overall though, the skin tones are very even, there is a nice range of colors, when needed, and the blacks are nice and rich. My only other complaint about the colors and picture would be that sometimes it seems a little soft. This might be because there are some scenes that have fantastic detail and then when compared to soft scenes it is such a dramatic difference.

As I have said before, "Payback Directors Cut" feels very gritty, and the way it is presented is great. There are going to be some people that don't enjoy this style. Throughout the film, there seems to be a lack of many bold colors. There are only a couple of scenes that really stand out with perfect vibrant colors. For example: When Porter is shot in the back, he is lying on the ground, dying, and the camera focuses on his blue eyes with an incredibly vibrant red car in the background. You really feel the direction of Brian Helgeland use of bright color in rare, appropriate instances. One other thing that I really enjoyed was how dirty he was able to make "Payback Directors Cut" and still not add a ton of noise. There are times when some noise is present, but nothing too distracting.

"Payback Directors Cut" is definitely a strong release relating to its video. There are going to be some that don't like that dirty, gritty feel, but most will absolutely love it and feel the direction Helgeland wanted to take.


We are given a 5.1 Dolby Digital track that unfortunately doesn't give us everything it deserves. The surrounds are nice with just moderate use. The lows are deep and do a good job of putting us into the film, and the dialogue is strong. The area that I found "Payback Directors Cut" to succeed in was the was definitely the best part of the transfer...always clear, crisp, and easily understood. I really wish that they would have went all out with the rest of the surrounds and low ends to continue to move us along. Don't get me wrong, they are nice, just not stunning.

With the soundtrack we get a really nice mix of music that also differs from the original release. This soundtrack does a great job of keeping us questioning Porter and forcing us to make the decision whether we like him or not. The presence of this soundtrack is much more depressing than before, which I think a lot of fans will like.


Commentary with Writer/Director Brian Helgeland: This is a nice commentary track that is very well paced. We hear Brian talk about everything from the differences to the original to characters and the actors to scenes and locations they shot, even just a touch of technical stuff. He really focuses on the Directors cut and goes into every detail of how he wanted it to look and why he shot it this way. Great way to really actually fall in love with this cut because he loves the way that he intended it to be and does a great job explaining why.

Paybacks are a Bitch: On Location in Chicago, and on Set in Los Angeles: These are both basically the same thing. On Location dives a little deeper into location shoot and On Set dives deeper into shooting on set. Other then that, there is interviews with cast and crew all around the board about the direction, the acting, interaction with the actors and pranks that they played on each other. They also go into the grittiness of the film, the feel, and their overall thoughts of "Payback." Honestly not much here, just a couple funny inside jokes that you might enjoy hearing about, and a couple details that sometimes will help you with the way they created "Payback."

Same Story-Different Movie, Creating Payback: The Directors Cut: This is nice to see, I am glad that they put something about the original into this release. This feature goes into reasons why the studios didn't want this release to hit theatres and the repercussions that followed it. Then we get into the struggles that they went through to actually create this release years later, being able to bring it to life, and then differences with this version of the film with cuts, character changes, and even music.

The Hunter: A Conversation with Author Donald E. Westlake: This is just okay. This is the author of what would be "Payback" and his thought process when writing. He goes into details about the characters and how they are supposed to look, feel, and interact. He really just tells us the story from a writer's point of view, and then tells us why he was hesitant to bring it to the big screen.

Final Thoughts:

"Payback Directors Cut" is well worth a look. Visually it is stunning, and the ideas and changes that Helgeland brings to this version are great. I had a blast watching the Directors Cut and felt as if I had watched a completely new release. The features are okay, but the video transfer is great and the sound does its job. The only thing that I really wanted to see that wasn't included was the original "Payback." Other then that, I definitely Recommend this one to fans of the original. The only thing I can say is come into this with an open mind, don't think about the changes until you see the film in its entirety and wait to pass judgment until you have taken it all in.

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