Straight Up Edition
Review by Gordon Justesen
“You got a light?”
“ No. No.”
“Well, then what good are you?”
I’ll be quick to admit that I’ve lost more than a tad of respect for Mel Gibson. I don’t need to fill you in on the details because chances are you probably know the reason for it. I still respect his work as a filmmaker, most notably The Passion of the Christ, but I was recently thinking to myself if it would be possible for me to watch any of his films again without a certain feeling of despise. But I had forgot what a nasty great film Payback was.
Actually, Payback has gotten something a makeover for it’s new DVD release. It’s a Director’s Cut, and it takes the film in a whole new direction, much like what the DC version of Daredevil did. The new cut is titled Payback: Straight Up, and before I delve into the film itself, I should first explain why there is a Director’s Cut in the first place.
The film marked the directorial debut of screenwriter Brian Helgeland, who at the time had just won an Oscar for his adapted screenplay for L.A. Confidential. He would go on to write such notable screenplays as Mystic River and Man on Fire. He would also later write and direct 2001’s A Knight’s Tale.
Making this film though proved to be awfully trying for Helgeland. He initially made the film he wanted to make, but the studio eventually decided to take out some of the grimmer aspects of the story and tack on a subplot involving a key villain. What happened in the end was Helgeland distanced himself from the project, and it’s believed that Mel Gibson himself took over the directing gig for the cut that would eventually be released to theaters in February of 1999.
Helgeland didn’t seem too distraught by the situation. If you noticed, his name was never taken off the film and he was still listed as the film’s writer and director. But thanks to the realm of the DVD market, which has done wonders for new cuts of many films, Helgeland is finally able to present Payback as he originally intended.
So how different is this version from the theatrical cut? A whole lot different indeed. Not only has the film been trimmed down by ten minutes, but many elements have changed. Mel Gibson’s voiceover has been removed, the music score has been completely redone, and even the blue bleach look to the picture has been stripped away, and the film now has a traditional level of color to it.
For all its changes, the plot of the movie remains pretty much the same. We meet Porter (Gibson) a criminal who’s been double-crossed by his one-time partner, Val (Gregg Henry). Left for dead, Porter eventually regains consciousness and sets out to get revenge, as well as the money owed to him for a job he and Val pulled, $70,000 to be exact.
What is not in this version, story wise, is the last half of the story involving a primary villain played by Kris Kristofferson, who was the high level boss in a criminal outfit Val was employed by. This version strictly deals with Porter trying to exact revenge on his former associate. The criminal outfit is mentioned, but the Kristofferson character is never seen or mentioned.
And which version is the best? Well I’m certainly glad I didn’t get rid of my copy of the original version, because I do admire many elements in that version. I particularly got a kick of the look of the film, as the bleached blue look gave it a terrific style to it. And I very much liked where the film went in its final moments, as the Gibson character found himself dealing with more and more baddies.
But I rate Helgeland’s new cut of the film and the theatrical cut at the same. They’re both very satisfactory to me. This new version is something of an interesting experience as you see it with a entirely new look and feel to it. This new cut clearly presents Porter’s dilemma as a much more personal one, where as in the other cut he was getting in way over his head in scene after scene.
So the story is the same but the movie is very different. Payback: Straight Up is unique and entirely new cut of one superbly badass flick. Gibson actually is damn cool as Porter, who is very much unlike anything he’s played before or sense then, and he ends up being one of the best anti heroes to root for in any movie.
The new cut is equally as good as the film we’re already familiar with. My suggestion is to watch both versions and decide for yourself. Hopefully, you’ll feel the same as me.
With a completely new look to it, the film looks more riveting than ever. The anamorphic picture is strong in its presenting of a clear and ultimately crisp picture, full of detail in scene after scene. Image quality is flawless and the color quality is astonishing. While I appreciate the original and unconventional look of the alternate cut, this version definitely gets high marks for superb video quality.
Although the music has changed completely (Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” has even vanished from this cut) the 5.1 mix goes in with guns a blazin'. Music playback is strong, as is the dialogue delivery and the many gunfights characters engage in. A solid and fitting action presentation indeed!
One big difference between this DVD release and that of the original disc is that of the extras. Much more to go around on this Paramount release. For starters, there’s a terrific commentary with writer/director Brian Helgeland that reveals quite a lot. Also included are some well handled featurettes, including “Paybacks Are a Bitch”, which covers location shooting in Chicago and L.A., and “Same Story, Different Movie”, which includes interviews with both Helgeland and Mel Gibson about what led to the two versions. Lastly, there’s “The Hunter: A Conversation with Donald E. Westlake”, which interviews the author of the book upon which the movie is based, titled “The Hunter”.
Payback remains a high powered and thrilling piece of action noir. It’s one of Mel Gibson’s finest hours, and this new Director’s Cut is a unique experience to have as it goes in a new direction. If anything, it represents a direction I’d like to see in future DVD releases, Straight Up!