I don’t know if I’d say I’ve been waiting ten years to see the director’s cut of Payback, but I guess I’ve been interested in it for ten years–it’s supposed to be the meaner version. Too bad Mel Gibson, even a good Mel Gibson, is Mel Gibson. Even when he’s being tough and mean, he’s got an element of cute. If you like Mel Gibson, you’ll probably like Payback.
It’s a tough guy movie set in a no name city, the film noir city of the 1950s, only Helgeland wastes a lot of time drawing attention to the city not having a name… (it’s Chicago). Helgeland’s direction is solid, but his establishing shots are really poorly framed, usually because he doesn’t know how to shoot the city. It looks like he doesn’t know how to do establishing shots, making it appear incompetent.
The most impressive thing about the film is acting. Helgeland’s rediscovery of Gregg Henry is something to be seen. Maria Bello’s good. Deborah Kara Unger is good. William Devane and James Coburn’s cameos are both great.
Unfortunately, the film gets to a point where there’s nowhere to go. The film’s philosophy just doesn’t work for making a successful picture. Played straight, it might have been better. Gibson’s character arc fails, as the character inexplicably develops emotional concern.
So, at that conclusion, when Helgeland’s run out of plot, he stops the movie. It’s a downhill slide from a rather strong opening. I suppose it’s a somewhat graceful decision.