Mel Gibson attempted to subvert his hero image in this admirably mean-spirited (sort of) crime drama which is a loose remake of the Lee Marvin/John Boorman classic Point Blank.
Gibson plays Porter, a lowlife criminal named who conducts a heist for $140,000 with his partner Val (Gregg Henry), but is then double crossed by Val and his own wife Lynn (Deborah Kara Unger - The Game), shot and left for dead.
A year later, fully recuperated, Porter is back and looking for his $70,000 cut, and a little revenge. And he's not afraid to break a few fingers to get it.
The idea with Payback is that Mel Gibson is playing a hard-arsed anti-hero character that is far removed from his usual hero roles. The tagline for the film was "Get ready to root for the bad guy". But while the film does have a somewhat gritty edge, Porter remains more or less sympathetic throughout and never does anything too nasty. I was hoping he'd be truly reprehensible. No such luck.
But Payback is a perfectly enjoyable crime thriller, with a very appealing bluish hue in its colouring. And it has a very good supporting cast - of particular note is the under utilised WASP-ish character actor Gregg Henry, who play's Porter's traitorous partner Val. Director Brian De Palma seems to recognise his talents - Henry has appeared in four of his movies.
The film also features Lucy Liu in an amusing role as a dominatrix, and contains welcome turns from David Paymer (Quiz Show, City Slickers), Bill Duke (Commando, Red Dragon), William Devane (Rolling Thunder, Knots Landing), Kris Kristofferson, John Glover (Smallville) and the late James Coburn.
Technically, Payback is not a remake of Point Blank, but is rather based upon the same book, The Hunter, which was written by Donald E. Westlake under the pseudonym Richard Stark. Point Blank is a very different movie from Payback, and possesses a very dreamy quality, almost as if the whole film is just a dying fantasy. It's very much worth seeking out.
Payback received some attention while it was being made for the fact that Gibson fired the film's director Brian Helgeland (who won an Oscar for co-writing LA Confidential, and also wrote the screenplay for Mystic River), and had a third of the film re-shot. Apparently Helgeland's version had Porter doing more nasty things. I'd like to see that.