I’d never seen the original Payback. It was a movie I wanted to see when I was younger (the “R” rating might have had something to do with it) but had always wanted to. When I heard about the “Director’s Cut” of Payback I had assumed it’d be like so many other “Director’s Cuts” that have arrived on DVD lately (i.e., poorly done and not worth your time), but having never seen the original I decided to give it a go.
After watching (and thoroughly enjoying) the Director’s Cut and all the special features it came with (commentary by director Brian Helgeland and four featurettes), I quickly became intrigued by what the original cut would hold. I tracked down a copy and knew what to expect—it had been discussed in the featurettes how the ending (and really, the entire third act) of Payback was changed for the theatrical cut, but I didn’t realize just how drastic the changes were. Watching the directors cut and original back-to-back was so disorienting. While the Director’s Cut is shorter (by eleven minutes), the story is so much deeper and engaging than what was released theatrically.
The first difference you’ll notice is a visual one—the washed out “blue” hue the theatrical release had is instead replaced by a more vivid picture. Second the “commentary” by Porter (Mel Gibson) over all scenes is now gone. Straight off the bat we get a much darker movie, which is only compounded when Porter and Lynn Porter first meet up in her apartment. Instead of simply carrying her to the bedroom as he did in the theatrical cut, in Straight Up we’re given a whole new scene where Porter and Lynn get into a very physical fight. It’s quickly evident that even with this removed scene that this isn’t going to be as “friendly” of a film as we were given originally.
Oddly enough, I had hoped watching the director’s cut prior to the theatrical cut would allow me to review the director’s cut more thoroughly—instead I find myself want to draw comparisons on nearly every scene in the movie. Dialogue changes are abundant between the two films and, as previously mentioned, the final act of the film is wholly different. There are so many subtle changes that it’s hard to list them all but what’s there makes the film much less comical than the theatrical version (and original trailers) would have led you to believe.
Payback Straight Up does the story and Porter’s character more justice than the theatrical cut had ever done. If you enjoyed the theatrical then do yourself a favor and give this one a spin—it’s wholly different, but it’s a much tighter, more satisfying story with a much less “happy ending.”
And this time around Porter (the dog) doesn’t get back up…
Payback Straight Up comes in a single disc amaray case (including “snap” locks) with rather plain disc art (those who own early DVD releases like The Crow and Equilibrium will know what to expect when opening the DVD case) and no chapter list or other inserts. Menus are easy to navigate and feature music over the main menu only.
Video on the film is extremely strong. Considering they had only a film print to work with when recutting this film, it’s amazing how clean and clear this all looks—definitely a nice surprise. There is grain, but from what I can tell it’s intentional and gives the movie a much more of a noir feel. Audio track is in 5.1 (as well as 2.0) and brings a rather satisfying immersion to the film. There isn’t much rear channel play for the most part, but the shootout with Pearl (Lucy Liu) and her gang send bullets flying all around, a few which you hear whiz behind your head.
Special features are small in number but satisfying for such a release. Four featurettes that cover the production of the film, the reasons behind the theatrical cut and an interview with the author of The Hunter, Donald E. Westlake and a full length commentary with director Brian Helgeland make up a few hours worth of special features.
The first two special features, “Paybacks are a Bitch”, cover the location shooting in Chicago and on-set location in Los Angeles. Included are interviews conducted with the cast during filming as well as new bits from director Helgeland, Mel Gibson (in full beard), Deborah Kara Unger (Lynn Porter) and Maria Bello (Rosie). It’s a shame we didn’t get any new material from Gregg Henry (Val Resnick), but we do get some words from him back from the original filming of the movie. These two featurette’s are lengthy (running over forty minute’s total) and pack plenty of new interviews and behind the scenes shots that allow you appreciate just went on behind the scenes of the film. The frequent interview bits from Richard Donner were also a surprise—I’m sure Helgeland and Donner both related to each other even more after Helgeland’s Payback was changed almost as drastically as Donner’s Superman II.
One of the more interesting features on the disc is “Same Story, Different Movie” which describes the process of how the three versions (Helgeland’s original, Theatrical cut and the final Director’s Cut) of the film came to be. We once again hear from Gibson, Helgeland and producer Bruce Davey and are given rather candid answers (something that only time can give) for the reasons for the revamped third act and altered scenes for the theatrical release. While they all defend it and state they are glad that both versions of the movie exist (though Helgeland not so much), you get a feel that Gibson still feels that the theatrical version is the “superior” version. Still, kudos to Gibson and his company, Icon Productions, for allowing this cut to see the light of day—it’s definitely the superior version to me.
On “The Hunter” featurette we hear from the author and the many films that have been adapted from his various works. The interview is short, but an interesting one to watch—not much is revealed about Payback in this featurette, but it is altogether very cool to see how many of the man’s works have been turned into movies.
Finally we’re given a film commentary by Helgeland which gives plenty of cool tidbits on the directors cut of Payback. Not only did he put back in his original first and third acts, but he also trimmed and cut out some dialogue and scenes he felt were unnecessary to the film. What’s interesting about this is that these scenes he cut were in his original version of the film, proving that time does change perspective on some scenes. Helgeland dives into how he thinks the third act of the theatrical release was not something that made too much sense in terms of Porter’s character (kidnapping Bronson’s son). The kidnapping made no sense in terms of Porter’s actions as he was just going after the men who owed him the money, not after their loved ones.
There are not very few repeated comments from the special features, nor are there very many silent moments in the commentary, making it an active track from start to finish. Unlike most commentary tracks, this one is interesting through and through and is a definite listen for those interested in discovering the small nuances between the various Payback cuts.
Overall Payback comes Highly Recommended. Fan or not of the original, this Payback comes off as a lot more no-nonsense than the theatrical cut. Those expecting typical Gibson antics (which were the reason for the theatrical release in the first place) may be disappointed, but, to me, we’re given a much darker and richer film experience than what we were offered before.
Payback Straight Up: Director’s Cut will be available on DVD, HD-DVD and Blu-Ray on April 10th.