USA 1998

Film still for Payback

Reviewed by Nick Roddick


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Criminals Porter and Resnick rob some Chinese gangsters; Porter's wife Lynn drives the getaway car. But Lynn and Resnick betray and shoot Porter, leaving him for dead. They take off with the $140,00 proceeds. However, Porter survives and decides to get back his share of the money and take revenge on Resnick. His first stop is Lynn, whom he tries to cure of her heroin addiction. But she overdoses on a hidden stash. Porter tracks down the heroin's supplier, Stegman. While confronting Stegman, he attracts the attention of two corrupt cops, Hicks and Leary, who decide to keep tabs on Porter and take the money if he finds it. Porter links up with ex-girlfriend Rosie, a callgirl who works for the same syndicate - "the Outfit" - which Resnick used the money to buy into.

Rosie tells Porter where to find Resnick, which he does, demanding his share of the money. Resnick enlists the help of Outfit boss Carter and alerts the Chinese gangs to Porter's whereabouts through his dominatrix Pearl. Porter is rescued from the Chinese by Hicks and Leary. He eliminates Resnick and Carter, and kidnaps the son of Outfit boss Bronson. Pursued by the Chinese and watched by Hicks and Leary, Porter closes in on his $70,000 against steadily increasing odds.


"Unattractive rehash of Point Blank with much more gratuitous violence." So reads the tenth edition of Halliwell's Film Guide entry on The Outfit, John Flynn's 1973 movie adapted from the novel The Hunter, which had also inspired John's Boorman's 1967 film. Frankly, Payback deserves the same one-line dismissal, even given the talents involved and the handful of gracenotes that make it sporadically watchable. Like its two predecessors, it abandons the novel's title for one which stresses the story's elemental side but without aspiring to any of the metaphyscial trappings that elevate Boorman's movie.

Accompanied by a voiceover that rivals Nick Nolte's in The Thin Red Line for world-weariness, Mel Gibson strides through the bleached-out colours of the all-purpose US city (actually Chicago), meting out his own brand of justice in a series of locations - seedy pool halls, ornate gangster hotels - which belong more to film noir than to reality. If the same could be said of Gibson's character and the handling of the action by director Brian Helgeland, Payback would be a much better film. Both star and director seem to be more interested in playing off perceptions of Gibson's on-screen persona than in actually telling the story, which lurches along from one violent set piece to the next. "No More Mr Nice Guy" is the promotional tag for the film, and Gibson rams the point home in the early scenes, stealing money from a beggar, cigarettes from a waitress and the wherewithal to begin his vendetta from an anonymous passer-by whose pocket he picks.

But that is only the beginning, as Gibson's Porter whacks, slices and drills holes in anyone coming between him and his money, while the Outfit and its thugs reciprocate with a series of even more unpleasant acts (one involves a large hammer and two of Gibson's toes). But while Helgeland helped to write the book as far as post-modernist film noir is concerned (he co-scripted L.A. Confidential with Curtis Hanson), he keeps falling off the log when it comes to balancing violent action with ironic lightness of touch. Even Sergio Leone (scarcely the most understated of directors) did a less heavy-handed job with Henry Fonda's fall from grace in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968).

All that's left is: a series of occasionally witty one-liners; over-the-top performances by Brian De Palma regular Gregg Henry as a sexually hung-up psychopath and Ally McBeal's Lucy Alexis Liu as his leather-clad dominatrix; a string of character actors either underused (Bill Duke, Deborah Kara Unger) or simply uncredited (James Coburn as an entertainingly epicene mob boss who winces when a cohort spills some of Porter's blood on his suit); some Chinese gangsters midway between the racism of Cimino's Year of the Dragon and the knockabout of Laurel & Hardy; and the running gag of Porter trying to make the Outfit understand that he is only after his share of the loot: $70,000, not the whole $140,000 that Resnick paid them. Imagine Gibson's resigned rolling of the eyes - one of the actor's trademark tics - as yet another hood says "$140,000", add in a lot of heavy-handed gore and you pretty much have Payback. Everyone - including Gibson - deserves better.


Bruce Davey
Brian Helgeland
Terry Hayes
Based on novel The Hunter by
Richard Stark
[Donald E. Westlake]
Director of Photography
Ericson Core
Kevin Stitt
Production Designer
Richard Hoover
Chris Boardman
©Warner Bros.
Production Companies
Paramount Pictures presents an Icon production
Executive Producer
Stephen McEveety
Production Co-ordinator
Gregg Edler
Production Manager
New York:
Pamela Thur
Unit Production Manager
Jim Lemley
Location Manager
Andrew L. Ullman
2cd Unit Director
Mic Rodgers
Assistant Directors
Mark Cotone
Laura Nisbet
Jayson Merrill
Franklyn Gottbetter
2nd Unit:
Forrest L. Futrell
Jennifer D'Angelo Kircher
Script Supervisors
P.R. Tooke
Sioux Richards-McLane
Marion Dougherty
Jane Alderman Casting
Douglas Wright
Camera Operators
Mark O'Kane
Malcolm M. Brown
Steadicam Operator
Mark O'Kane
Digital Effects
P.O.P. Film
Special Effects
Bob Stoker
Blair L. Foord
Mario Vanillo
Chicago Technicians:
Frank Krenmuller
Mike Ahasay
Art Directors
Troy Sizemore
Caty Maxey
Set Designers
Adam Scher
Gina B. Cranham
Set Decorators
Sandy Struth
Daniel B. Clancy
Costume Designer
Ha Nguyen
Costume Supervisor
Kimberly Guenther
The Beauty Bucket
Julie Hewett
Mindy Hall
Jennifer Bell
Special Prosthetics
Matthew W. Mungle
Pacific Title/Mirage
Guitar Solos:
John Goux
Sophistifunk Band:
Greg Bissonette
Mendel Baylitz
Luis Conte
Steve Forman
Neal Stubenhaus
Chris Boardman
William Ross
Executive in Charge of Music for Icon Productions
David Culiner
Music Editors
Jim Harrison
Michael T. Ryan
Jeanette Surga
Scoring Mixers
Frank Wolf
Tom Vicari
John Richards
"Anniversary Song" by Al Jolson, Saul Chaplin, performed by Chris Boardman; "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" by James Brown, Betty Newsome, performed by James Brown; "Sway" by Pablo Beltr√°n, Norman Gimbel, performed by Dean Martin; "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" by Otto Harbach, Jerome Kern, performed by Vic Damone; "Ain't That a Kick in the Head" by James Van Heusen, Sammy Cahn, performed by Dean Martin; "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" by/performed by Jimi Hendrix; "The Thrill Is Gone" by Rick Darnell, Roy Hawkins, performed by B.B. King; "Luck Be a Lady" by Frank Loesser, performed by Michael Civisca; "You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You" by James Cavanaugh, Russ Morgan, Larry Stock, performed by Dean Martin; "If I Had My Life to Live Over" by Moe Jaffe, Henry Tobias, Larry Vincent, performed by Lou Rawls
Sound Design
Fury & Grace Digital
Sound Supervisors
Jon Johnson
Bruce Stubblefield
Production Sound Mixer
Geoffrey Lucius Patterson
Narration Mixer
Dean Drabin
Re-recording Mixers
Chris Carpenter
Rick Kline
Bill W. Benton
Tim Webb
Bill Meadows
Re-recording Stage Engineer
Dave Bergstrom
Sound Editors
Michael Chandler
Ben Wilkins
Miguel Rivera
Keith Bilderbeck
John K. Adams
Dialogue Editors
Robert Troy
Trip Brock
Beth Bergeron
Stephanie Flack
Bobbi Banks
Solange Schwalbe
Group Co-ordinator:
Burton Sharp
Carolyn Sauer
Wheldon Brown
Ed Steidele
Dominique Decaudain
Kyle Rochlin
Stunt Co-ordinator
Mic Rodgers
Animal Handlers
Birds and Animals Unlimited
Helicopter Pilot
Al Cerullo
Film Extract
The Devil's Advocate (1997)
Mel Gibson
Gregg Henry
Val Resnick
Maria Bello
David Paymer
Bill Duke
Detective Hicks
Deborah Kara Unger
Lynn Porter
John Glover
William Devane
Mr Carter
Lucy Alexis Liu
Jack Conley
Detective Leary
Kris Kristofferson
Mark Alfa
Johnny's friend 2
Kwame Amoaku
Justin Ashforth
Michael, the bartender
Len Bajenski
Fairfax bodyguard 1
Kate Buddeke
counter girl
Price Carson
Bronson's heavy 1
Roddy Chiong
Chow's thug 2
Art Cohan
Bronson's heavy 2
Andrew Cooper
whipping boy
James Deuter
Doc Duhame
David Dunard
Nathan Effron
Johnny's friend
Tom Equin
razor clean 1
Brian Heinberg
bartender 2
Alex Henteloff
Varrick's manager
Jeff Imada
Chow's bodyguard
Michael Ingram
Chow's thug 1
Robert Kim
Chow's courier
Robert Kurcz
Oakwood arms manager
Turk Muller
black suit
Chet Nichols
Oakwood arms tough 1
George O'Mara
Yasen Peyankov
Ed Pfeifer
Ed Johnson
Katrina Phillips
Freddy Rodriguez
punk messenger
Michael Skewes
Fairfax bodyguard 2
Alex Skuby
Oakwood arms tough 2
Trevor St. John
Johnny Bronson
Lee Stepp
bar patron
Daniel Patrick Sullivan
razor clean 2
Tedd Taskey
Manu Tupou
Marc Vann
James Coburn
Justin Fairfax
Warner Bros Distributors (UK)
9,099 feet
101 minutes 6 seconds
(7 seconds cut)
Dolby digital
Colour by
Super 35 [1:2.35]
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011