I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Payback

Well in late December as I was preparing to face down the ol’ Y2K problem I got to thinking about the old Mad Max and Road Warrior movies I used to like so much, and that got me thinking about Mel Gibson, the young Australian actor who played Mad Max.

Well okay, I admit that Mel hasn’t amounted to as much as we as a society thought he would back in those days, but that doesn’t mean you can Write the man off entirely. I know what you are thinking, this dude hasn’t done shit since Mad Max so just forget about him. But sometimes even after he’s considered washed up by the general public an actor or actress is still putting out high quality type performances with little recognition.

PaybackAt the video store I found one Mel Gibson film called Ransom, about a kidnapping. I figured okay this will be good, it’s probaly about a cop named Ransom, I’m thinking most likely John Ransom. Well turns out he’s not John Ransom, Ransom is just the name of the movie and not Mel Gibson. He’s not a cop either, he’s just a rich guy. But his name isn’t Ransom. So I decided to give this one a pass and pickup Payback instead.

Turns out his name is Porter in Payback but at least he’s not some rich guy. He’s not a cop either but come to think of it why the fuck does the star of an action movie have to be a cop anway? I mean nothing against McClane but let’s face it, if you had to pick one occupation of guys you want to hang out with, it’s not going to be a fucking cop, jesus. That’s why I haven’t been watching as much TV lately, I mean if I want to see cops and lawyers I’ll just answer the door.

Payback starts off real nice and right away you can tell this is going to be a more down to earth type hero you can relate to. First a doctor who in my opinion is probaly unlicensed pulls bullets out of Porter. From there there is a montage type thing with Porter stealing from a panhandler, lifting a man’s wallet, using his credit cards to buy suits and food, getting a gun from a thrift shop. Then he just starts strutting along like a true motherfucker and it plays this funky theme song and it just makes you go, “I love this fucking movie already.” This scene sort of tells the rags to riches type story of a dude who lost everything who now uses his wits to build up a roll and get the basic tools needed for his mission.

That mission is the title of the film. What it is in case you forgot is he is going to get payback. What he needs payback or revenge for is this whole deal where his wife and his partner double crossed him and shot him so they could take all the money from a robbery. I don’t know if you have experienced something like this but it is a real pisser in my opinion, some of you may know what I’m talking about. So you know you can see where this carter dude is coming from right away.

The structure of this filmwork is very simple and old fashioned and follows the same pattern as that opening montage. He takes each basic resource and builds up more resources – first a suit and a gun, later a police badge, various connections, etc. His partner used his money to pay off a crime syndicate called THe Outfit. It is only fair for him to ask for his money back so he climbs his way up to the very top of the outfit killing people until he gets it.

Let me tell you man it is really good to see Mel back playing a regular guy like Porter or Mad Max instead of a cop or a rich guy. Porter is a real Badass unlike I have seen in any other recent movies. I mean he does a lot of Badass type activities up to and including blowing up a car, intentionally crashing a car, pulling out a dude’s nose ring, getting his toes crushed by a hammer, killing a dude for not having a lighter on him. The main thing about this movie, and the Badass movement in general, is attitude. Mel has a real dead look in his eye, doesn’t talk too much, he knows how to smoke a cigarette just right and he can intimidate and/or mangle motherfuckers like nobody’s business.

For one example, there is a scene where he comes in wanting to talk to a crime boss, but there is a HUGE black dude in the front office that tells him the man isn’t in. Porter keeps trying to ask where is he, maybe he’s at home, where is he exactly? But the bouncer won’t give him the time of day. Porter shakes his head in frustration and disappointment.

Suddenly, cut to that bouncer walking into the back room holding a towel over his ear, blood dripping down his face, calling for his boss somebody’s here to see you.

This is Porter’s style, you don’t even have to see what he did to a dude, you just can assume it was Badass. This dude can get past security in an elevator AND steals their cigarettes. Good work Porter.

This movie, and again the Badass movement, is also about style in my opinion. This is very much like an early ’70s movie, with alot of funky music and the photographing is all washed out and tinted blue. The world is kind of a timeless place where there are rotary phones in the cars but nose rings on the heroin dealers. It is like real life where both the policing and criming industries are mostly filled with a bunch of pricks. But I do like this Porter in my opinion on account of he is good at what he does, which I should remind you is getting payback.

Now okay not everything about Payback is that good. Some of the guitaristry I thought was out of date but not out of date enough to be cool. Also the technique on blowing up the car was the oldest trick in the book although I do give points for the explosion itself just on principle. But I would highly recommend this piece, it is definitely one of the best movies and characters of this year and hopefully it will show audiences that the Badass community are still a vital audience in the millennial Cinema films of the year 2-G.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Thursday, December 20th, 2001 at 8:46 pm and is filed under Action, Crime, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

4 Responses to “Payback”

  1. Watched it again last night for the first time since it came out. I forgot how good it was, although now, that I know about the extensive re-shoots, the shift in style is a lot more visible to me.
    Well, I’m gonna watch the director’s cut for the first time later today.

  2. I prefer the director’s cut, if only because the original PAYBACK version is a lean mean, honest to god Parker fan letter. Or tries to be at least made in the impression left in a reader’s mind from those books. He’s brutal, he has no qualms smacking around his old lady or killing people. But goddamit, you still end up rooting for him. It’s hip in what its simple ambitions, and fulfilling them. Maybe or maybe not “the” Parker movie, but it sincerely tried.

    The theatrical version is too much committee second-guessing bullshit with zero faith in the audience. Maybe the hero is too mean, he’s not heroic enough? If the original cut was “hip” for what it tried to emulate a 70s action/crime picture, the theatrical version was terminally hip in trying to cash off the am-I-fucking-cool-or-am-I-not? smartass cute self-awareness junk of post-modernism. Or basically they tried to make a Tarantino-wannabe picture in some regards, and it turned me off.

    I was also impressed, as small simple change as it was, how the movie came off better without that blue camera hue. Go figure.

    So yeah, I don’t get people who prefer the theatrical cut over the DC. I just don’t.

  3. After now watching the director’s cut too, I gotta admit that I do prefer the theatrical version too, but not by much. I think in the end it comes all down to “it was more fun”, while STRAIGHT UP was cold and didn’t make me feel anything for anybody.

    Of course the post-test-screening-additions are seriously silly at times (The dog survives? And I got no idea what was up with William Devane’s pose when he gets shot. Who the fuck put the bomb under the bed anyway? How did they find out where they were going to stay?), but it has lots of stuff to like. I mean, they made the movie more “audience friendly”, but still have Gibson play a cold blooded killer, who gets tortured in the end and barely makes it out alive. Not as barely as in the director’s cut, but still.

    I would even say that the director’s cut is more Tarantino than the theatrical, because it tried hard to be a movie from a different era, while the bastard version was “just” a typical Mel Gibson feature of the late 90’s.

    In the end I have to say that the discussion which version is better, is pretty unnecessary. We are blessed with two absolutely different versions of the same movie and both are seriously damn good. Both added good stuff and left something unnecessary out. Everybody wins!

  4. I enjoy both versions myself. I have to rewatch this one soon to remind myself of what a good Parker movie could be since the Statham one apparently won’t be worth it. But also to warm up for the GRINGO movie since everybody keeps calling it PAYBACK’s “spiritual successor”.

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