Plot: What’s it about?
Porter (Mel Gibson) has done a lot of bad things in his life, but even he doesn’t think he deserves the whirlwind of hell that has descended upon him. A con man by trade, Porter was targeted by a criminal named Val Resnick (Gregg Henry), who was once a member of the vaunted The Outfit, but now stands as an outsider. As The Outfit has a strangehold on high end crime, Resnick needs to get back in the group’s good graces, no matter how much it costs. Resnick went after Porter hard, using Porter’s own wife Lynn (Deborah Unger) against him, exploiting her emotions over Porter’s contact with another woman, Rosie (Maria Bello). Porter then spirals into hell, as his own wife turns on him, his money is stolen by Resnick, and he is left for dead. But Porter doesn’t die and as he has survived, he decides to take action. He is soon consumed by vengeance, with only the recovery of his money and revenge on Resnick driving him. He finds himself on a path of destruction, as he faces down some of the city’s most ruthless criminals, but is his drive for revenge strong enough to see him through?
The trend of director’s cuts and unrated versions is stronger than ever, but a lot of these re-releases offer only a minimal change from the originals. But in the case of Payback, this new director’s cut is almost like a different movie in total. In addition to some revisions with the storyline, director Brian Helgeland has overhauled the entire Payback experience. The music has been changed, the visuals have been redesigned, and yes, even the film’s conclusion has been spun. Mel Gibson’s narration has been excised and the changes to the music are a mixed bag, some memorable moments are quite different now. The first thing you’ll notice is that the cloak of blue has been lifted from the transfer, which creates quite a difference. You can see flesh tones now and colors are bright, so the once stylistic visuals now seem more natural. So Payback is a whole new experience in this director’s cut, but is Helgeland’s vision better than the theatrical release? In some ways, this new version holds the edge, but I miss some elements from the original cut, so it is a toss up. I would like to see some kind of middle ground, with the best of both versions, to give us a definitive, masterful edition of Payback. In any event, if you enjoyed the theatrical version, then you’ll want to check out Payback: The Director’s Cut, but I think a rental should suffice.
Video: How does it look?
As mentioned above, “Payback” is not only an entirely different movie, but it’s visual look and feel has been completely retooled as well. The original version contained a very bluish/greyish tone to most every scene. Naturally the outdoor scenes amplified this and the indoor scenes were a bit warmed up, but not much. This new MPEG 2 transfer not only showcases a more warm and natural look to the movie, but we get to see plenty of new footage as well. And that’s where the bad news comes into play. The original print was done before the “digital age” and the producers had to search high and low for an original print of the film. In (re)doing the movie, they opted to give the film a more natural look. Gone are the bluish highlights – they’ve been replaced. The result is a very hard look to the film. Natural, but it “pops”. We can see more detail in the faces, wrinkles and the like. Obviously the filmmakers were going to a retro look here and that’s what we get. If you’re going to completely change a movie, might as well go all the way, right? While not as polished as the newer Blu-ray films, there is a certain element of grain but considering some of the source material, it looks pretty darn good. It’s a very unique-looking transfer to say the least.
Audio: How does it sound?
A standard Dolby Digital 5.1 track is included here and again, considering that the entire score was redone and the voiceovers taken out, it’s a very unique sounding track. The ambient effects, like gunfire, cars, etc. all sound on par with any other movie of this age. But, the entire soundtrack has been retooled for a more retro theme to the movie. Where there was once voiceovers, there’s now nothing. It’s a bit odd, actually. If you’ve seen “Payback” you were familar with Gibson’s quirky narration but now it just sounds like actors reading their lines. Never underestimate the power of sound. Is it bad? No. It’ just different and certainly fits with the theme of the movie, that’s for sure.
Supplements: What are the extras?
After you’ve seen both versions, make sure to check out Same Story, Different Movie, a featurette that offers insights into how the two cuts are different. Helgeland and other production staff discuss why changes were made and why this new version was needed, while Mel Gibson provides his thoughts as well. Helgeland returns for a director’s commentary and while I expected a wealth of insights, that wasn’t the case. He spends a lot of time narrating what is on screen, but to be fair, some worthwhile comments do come in once and a while. This disc also includes an interview with author Donald Westlake, as well as featurettes that focus on the location work in Chicago and San Francisco.