Re: RARA-AVIS: Payback

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 21 Mar 2003


"Just watched Mel Gibson in Payback. Fantastic movie. Loved it. Of course, it spoiled reading the book, but I can live with that."

I thought the movie sucked.

Here's what I posted on it a few years ago when it came out in theaters:

The Hunter/Point Blank/Payoff is one of my favorite hardboiled novels. And I will allow that the film Payback probably sticks closer to the book's plot than Point Blank did. That said, I could not stand Payback and loved Point Blank. First of all, Lee Marvin's stoic determination seemed to me to capture the character of Parker better (this movie was one of the first pieces of evidence in my theory that Lee Marvin was the coolest man alive; the title has now passed to Chow Yun Fat [with Clive Owen now closing in]). I found Mel Gibson's retread buddy movie smart ass comments (without even a buddy to say them to; I would guess this is what was added to make Mel more "human") annoying, undercutting and making light of some disturbing violence -- if you are going to have disturbing violence, like the torture scene, let it stand for what it is, it should leave a bad taste, not be wiped clean by "I stubbed my toe," or whatever the inane comment was; Tarantino knew this in Pulp Fiction. I also found the camp attitude of Payback annoying, the Starsky and Hutch set, dressing and attitude. The movie would only have been improved if Antonio Fargas (Huggy Bear) had walked around a corner, as I kept expecting him to. Worst of all, though, I found the movie wildly inconsistent, especially in its treatment of Parker. If Porter was smart enough to get out of the many perilous situations in which he found himself, he would not have been dumb enough to get into them in the first place.

As I said, Point Blank plays much looser with the book. The possibility that Walker might be an avenging angel, much like Clint in High Plains Drifter, and the existential stuff is purely young Boorman. But I thought the latter, at least, fit well with what is essentially a work about work, what it is to be a professional.

[I later found out that there is supposed to be an earlier cut of the movie floating around. It is said to feature a harder, less glib Gibson. Unfortunately, Gibson supposedly thought he came off as too much of a bad guy and forced changes to make him seem nicer, more sympathetic. I'd love to get my hands on a copy of that other version.]


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