Have you ever felt like no one really listens, like your words fall on deaf ears? And if by chance they actually hear you, that they don't take you seriously? Welcome to Porter's predicament. Based on "The Hunter" series by author Richard Stark, Payback stars Mel Gibson, Maria Bello, and Gregg Henry. Like the film's theme, the film too was a bit overlooked. Gibson, whose production company, Icon Productions, funded the project, underplayed the Porter character, making him unforgettable and believable. Sure, he's essentially a bad guy, but in his world he's actually better than the others.
The film begins with thief Porter waking up after getting shot down, betrayed by his partner in crime Val Resnick - played perfectly slimy by Gregg "Hubba-Hubba" Henry. Porter decides to get back on his feet and claim his share of their recent heist: $70,000. No more, no less. Got that? Pay attention, because he just wants his 70 Gs. But as it turns out, Resnick now works for "The Outfit", a high end crime organization. Getting his money back may be trickier than expected.
|Mel Gibson and Gregg Henry|
With such strong guidance, it's sad then that there was conflict towards the end of production. Helgeland's original ending was deemed too dark by the studio and he was asked to revise it. He remained insistent on his version, despite advice from Donner and Gibson, and was eventually fired. Gibson and the remaining team then shot additional footage that now had several changes including a new ending, Gibson's voice over, and actor Kris Kristofferson as Bronson, the head of "The Outfit".
Year's later Helgeland was given the opportunity to put together a director's cut, which goes by the title Payback: Straight Up. In most cases, I lean towards a director's original vision, but Payback's theatrical release is by far my preferred incarnation. If you can hunt it down, there is a Blu-ray disc available that includes both theatrical and director's cut versions along with several behind-the-scenes featurettes (note: this Blu-ray will more than likely only be found online - check Amazon). It's ironic that Helgeland didn't heed the advice of two amazing directors (Donner and Gibson). After all, the film is basically about people who don't listen. Still, I commend Helgeland to sticking to his guns.
|Gregg Henry, William Devane, and Kris Kristofferson|
Throughout the film, Porter has to climb his way through so many obstacles that by the time he reaches Bronson's number two man Fairfax (played charmingly by James Coburn), it's almost tragic. But Coburn adds a much needed comedic relief that helps take the audience through Porter's struggle to the top. And with a character as devious as Porter, it's fortunate that Helgeland and co-writer Terry Hayes give their characters enough...well...character to make the line between good and bad a bit more gray, and thus more interesting.
|L-R: Bill Duke, Gibson, and Jack Conley|
|Lucy Liu and Gibson|
|Gibson and Maria Bello|
|Porter getting hit by a car|
Payback may have two versions with fans and critics arguing which is superior, but what should be appreciated is the film's story and quality of characters. Bad guys don't have to be bad for no reason. They don't just have to be there to antagonize the good guys. If Helgeland (and Richard Stark) proved anything, it's that bad guys can have history and significant motives too. Bad guys, in certain situations, can actually be good.
For more information visit the film's IMDb page: www.imdb.com/title/tt0120784
TRIVIA: In Richard Stark's novel "The Hunter", the main character's name is Parker (not Porter). Additionally, Stark has claimed that he wished he had named him differently, in part because he has always struggled writing sentences describing Parker parking his car.