Since I have recently reviewed the Blu-ray version of Payback, some non-format specific aspects of this review will be ported over from that review.
I remember eight years back when Payback was first released. I eagerly anticipated the opportunity to watch it, and when I got the chance to check it out, I instantly enjoyed it. Upon finding out about the release of the new director’s cut, I found myself eagerly anticipating it once again, as it promised to be a completely different film.
…p>For those of you that aren’t familiar with why exactly Payback – Straight Up: The Director’s Cut is dubbed to be so different than the original release, I’ll fill you in. Ten years ago, Mel Gibson starred in Conspiracy Theory, which was written by Brian Helgeland, the credited director for Payback. After working together on Conspiracy Theory, Helgeland sent Gibson a script for what was to be a dark, low-budget film with a 70’s feel. Not expecting to even get a call back from Gibson, Helgeland was now eagerly anticipating his directorial debut on the set of a big Mel Gibson movie. But like for most of us, sometimes things aren’t as good as they initially seem; the studio deemed Helgeland’s picture entirely too dark and asked him to change roughly 30% of the movie. Incompliant with the studios request, Helgeland was removed from the project and replaced with production designer John Myhre.
In this version of the film, we begin with Porter (Mel Gibson), a hard thief walking around town committing various un-lawful and indecent acts. To wrap up his day, he returns home where he has a confrontation with his estranged wife (Deborah Kara Unger) who thought he was dead. She also appears to be a heroine junkie, which at the time we think is the justification of Porter laying a good beating into her. The next morning she is discovered to have had an overdose, poor timing for her dealer (Freddy Rodriguez) who comes knocking only to receive a beating, and in turn leads Porter to his boss, Arthur Stegman (David Paymer). This sort of formula pertains for the entire film, Porter roughing people up to get to what he wants, what was rightfully his. As it turns out Porter is looking for an old friend, Val Resnick, who along with Mrs. Porter stole $70,000 from him and shot him leaving him for dead. Payback is a bitch isn’t it, well everyone who crossed Porter is going to find out first hand, and you will as dubbed by the promotional tagline, “Get ready to root for the bad guy.”
Everything seems different from the lack of voice over to the tone in the film; even the character of Porter seems different – a lot darker. For example, in the beginning of the film, there is a sequence where Porter returns to the streets, much like in the original one he nickels and dimes a waitress and steals a man’s wallet. The main difference in this sequence is the robbery of a homeless man. In the original version the man was pretending to be a paraplegic Vietnam War veteran, and Porter takes his money at which point the homeless guy gets up and Porter puts him back down saying, “There I cured you.” Instead of taking money from a coning homeless man in the Straight Up version, Porter just straight up steals money from a homeless guy. It’s things like this that make him a much darker and less conscience person. If that wasn’t enough to convince you that Porter was a bad guy, he puts a good beating into his wife, kills unarmed people, manipulates and beats on countless others. Sure, the people that Porter beats and kills for the most part probably deserve it, he is still quite a sociopath, killing people never phases him.
Mel Gibson plays a great role as always, this time as Porter, the street-wise no nonsense tough guy who is back to get what was his. But Mel Gibson acting a great role isn’t exactly unexpected, so what I really enjoyed about this movie was the supporting actors and actresses, all of whom were perfectly cast. More specifically, I’ll mention the amazing job by Gregg Henry who played the psychopathic Val Resnick, a brilliantly cast role, often humorous and often extremely unlikable. Aside from that, I also enjoyed Maria Bello’s performance as the call girl with a good heart, the short role of Mrs. Lynn Porter played by Canadian actress Deborah Kara Unger, and of course David Paymer as the wannabe criminal Arthur Stegman. Last but not least on my list of mentionable roles are William Devane and James Coburn as the under bosses of The Outfit.
Now comes the hard part, a comparison between the two versions of the film, both very unique and different films, both two films that I enjoyed immensely. On one hand, you got a more Lethal Weapon-esque studio approved version with a more Hollywood conclusion, on the other you got a straight to the point more sadistic version. Both showcase some great supporting talent and a well-written script, and really the difference in conclusion makes the movies considerably different; I couldn’t very well say if you liked the original you will like this one. There were certain aspects that I liked about the original in comparison to the new, or should I say original cut. For example, the Mel Gibson voice over in the original helped us understand the character better and feel more sympathetic towards him, without this in the Straight Up, cut you really question some of Porter’s decisions and motives. In this version as well there is a complete new score, all instrumental with a more serious tone, in comparison to the Mel Gibson influenced soundtrack of the original, which included the workings of Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Hendrix.
The amount of action is comparable in both versions, but in this version it is more violent, especially in the closing sequence. Ultimately, I enjoyed both versions equally, but if I was forced to choose I would say I liked the original version slightly better – possibly because of its nostalgic feel, longer duration which allowed things to be better explained, or maybe because Porter seemed more likeable. But in the end, I really enjoy both versions of the film, they are great for different reasons, you really have to check them both out and be the judge on this one. If you enjoyed the original version, you should definitely check this one out so you can draw your own conclusions, as for those of you who haven’t seen the other version I strongly suggest you check this one out, it’s a great watch.
Presented in 1080p 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Payback hits HD DVD with some impressive looking results. Unlike the theatrical version, Straight Up does not have the blue filtering used throughout the entire picture. Although I enjoyed the look of the blue picture, this new look definitely is prettier to look at. Colors look a lot more saturated in this film but never overly so; flesh tones also maintain a realistic look. A light grain is present for the films entirety, a clear director’s intent to enhance the grittiness; luckily it doesn’t mute any of detail in the film. From the embossed blue paint in Lynn’s apartment to the individual wrinkles on Mr. Carters face, almost every detail is seen clearly. The HD DVD disc is encoded with the MPEG-4 codec, compared to the MPEG-2 codec used on the Blu-ray disc, but it was hard to detect any difference between the two. The MPEG-4 codec did appear to be a bit better at handling color but the difference is so small it is hardly worth mentioning. In either case Paramount has done a great job with this transfer.
This HD DVD release has a Dolby Digital Plus track and has a slight edge when compared to the Blu-ray track. The Plus track did sound more robust when the bullets were flying, making for stronger sounding rear out and bass. As for dialogue scenes I could not detect a difference between the two. Payback is full of dialogue and action and both tracks handle these aspects well, with no balancing issues between the two. Porter’s magnum rattled the room every time it was shot, while the lower caliber weapons let out a clear crack throughout all the channels. The new score for Payback does a good job of setting atmosphere but isn’t quite as lively as the Theatrical versions. In the end Payback: Straight Up has a good sounding track, if they ever do release the theatrical version I hope they include a True-HD or PCM track.
Paramount has included a fair share of special feature for Payback. Every feature is definitely worth checking out as they provide an excellent amount of detail into the creation of the Straight Up cut.
- Audio Commentary – Commentary by Writer/Director Brain Helgeland.
- Paybacks are a Bitch -We are given 2 on location shoots, one in Chicago (30min) the other in L.A. (20min). Both of these offer an impressive amount of depth to the films productions. Brian Helgeland talks about how he was influenced by his friend/Director Richard Donner. Various cast members discuss how much they enjoyed working on the film as well as surviving Mel Gibson’s onset pranks.
- Same Story, Different Movie – A 29 min in-depth look at the making of Payback: Straight up, including the troubles Director Brain Helgeland had with Paramount which ultimately led to the reshoot of a good portion of the film with a new director.
- The Hunter: A conversation with Author Donald E Westlake – A 10 minute discussion with Donald E Westlake who created Parker, the inspiration for the character Porter.
Payback – Straight Up: The Director’s Cut is a great addition to anyone’s high definition collection. The film is filled with some very interesting characters, a great tale or revenge, and some pretty violent and intense action scenes. With the movie being so enjoyable and with the audio and video tantalizing your senses it’s real easy for me to recommend you check out this movie, even to purchase it. The extra features are a great addition and provide a good amount of information, Payback- Straight Up proves to be a great and worthy disc. In deciding what format to pick this disc up for my vote would have to go to the HD DVD version due to its slighting better looking picture and audio presentation.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary
- Paybacks are a Bitch
- Same Story, Different Movie
- The Hunter: A conversation with Author Donald E Westlake