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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Payback

Starring: Mel Gibson, Maria Bello
Director: Brian Helgeland
Rated: R
RunTime: 102 Minutes
Release Date: February 1999
Genres: Suspense, Thriller

*Also starring: James Coburn, William Devane, Bill Duke, Gregg Henry, Lucy Liu, Kris Kristofferson, Deborah Unger, David Paymer

Review by MrBrown
2½ stars out of 4

Immediately after watching _Payback_, the friend with whom I attended the screening came up with a snappy line: "_Payback_--where the good guys are bad, and the bad guys are badder!" Actually, an equally snappy and more accurate line would be, "_Payback_--where the bad guys are bad, and the good guys are even worse," for the "hero" of this offbeat and somewhat amusing action thriller is arguably more evil than the "villains."

His name is Porter (Mel Gibson), a small-time hood who is swindled out of $70,000 and left for dead by fellow crook Val (Gregg Henry) and Porter's own junkie wife, Lynn (Deborah Kara Unger). Of course, Porter improbably recovers from his two potentially fatal gunshots to the back, and he takes violent, often murderous, ends to even the score--or, at the very least, get his $70,000.

Co-writer/director Brian Helgeland (who retains directing credit though "creative differences" with Gibson prompted him to leave the project before its completion) plays the rather scenario for a number of darkly tongue-in-cheek laughs. After all, who would go through so much trouble--and take so much punishment himself--for such an absurdly low figure? Only someone as disturbed as Porter, whom Gibson plays with the same manic, slightly off-kilter energy he always brings to his action roles.

Based on the above, _Payback_ sounds much lighter than it is--for all the humor in it, the film is quite gritty and dark, reflected most obviously in Emerson Core's often frustratingly grainy cinematography, which casts a blue-gray wash over the entire film. _Payback_ is extremely violent; I would go so far as to say excessively so at certain points. Even the gung-ho male action fans who sat next to me were audibly shocked by some of Porter's extremely brutal behavior--which he gets his own taste of in a unsettling torture scene involving a sledgehammer. There are a number of sadomasochistic touches, courtesy of an Asian-mob-affliated dominatrix (Lucy Liu, a long way from _Ally_McBeal_). This brings me to another point that will surely spark some controversy: the film's treatment of women. A touch of misogyny is expected in a macho action picture such as this, but when the three prominent female characters--who, I might add, are just about the _only_ females in the film--are two prostitutes (one being the dominatrix, the other being Maria Bello's gold-hearted hooker/Porter love interest) and a heroin addict, one could easily see that the fairer sex gets a far from fair treatment.

One's enjoyment of _Payback_ essentially boils down to one's opinion of Porter, and, to a certain degree, Gibson himself: depending on your view, he can come off as either a badass or an asshole, with no in-between. The bulk of the audience with whom I saw the film appeared to think the former, and, being a Gibson fan, I'm with them. Nonetheless, I never was more than amused by _Payback_, whose thin story never generates any genuine excitement.

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