Gibson is Porter, an anti-hero, but the film neither cares nor makes any effort to point the fact out. (The movie's tagline does, however, but that's a different matter.) After he is double crossed by his partner in crime and his wife, he sets out to put his life back in order -- and a lot of other people's lives out of order. Joined by a pretty call girl with whom he has a past (Maria Bello) and coming up against a boatload of bad guys with bigish names and recognizable faces (Gregg Henry, Lucy Liu, William Devane and James Coburn to mention a few).
|Written and Directed by Brian Helgeland.|
There are two things that make this movie really memorable. The first -- my favorite and the most obvious -- is the style. The film casually and confidently throws back to 40's noir films in all the classic ways. There's a jaded and sharply worded narration from Porter. Classic 40's tunes play ironically in the background to great effect. Suits, fedoras and revolvers are popular amongst characters. And the film is almost a complete monotone of dull blue. My only regret is that they weren't bold enough to go for the full black and white.
But secondly, and more importantly, the plot features a near-constant stream of those noir action moments that are tricky to define because they are so broad, but are instantly recognizable when it happens. Those moments that make you laugh because they are so smart and unusual in content, yet executed so coolly and with so little pomp and circumstance that it makes it all the more awesome for the lack of exertion. If you appreciate that kind of thing, you'll know exactly what I mean. And this movie exists to make them happen.
|So really the noir element is, all around, this film's best feature.|
Performances are good and serve the plot instead of vice versa. Gibson makes a good lead, but I wished a few times that he'd been more consistently cool. Every so often a little bit of Conspiracy Theory comes through. Not a bad thing in itself, but less than welcome in a pic like this one. Bello was pretty neutral. My favorites were the villains, who really seemed to be enjoying themselves in their villainy.
The film earns it's R-rating, but not excessively so, and is appropriate for the style. Mostly it relishes its violence, which is sometimes cringe-worthy. Also, it is based (probably loosely) on a book (The Hunter by Richard Stark/Donald E. Westlake) and you can tell it in the plotting. While most films stretch their plots to fit a movie's run time, this one feels ever-so-slightly trimmed to fit. That's not meant to be a totally negative observation though. While I imagine that the book fleshes out the plot more, there's no real noticeable lack of anything in the film. At any rate, I'd much prefer to have to work at understanding a plot as it breezes coolly by, then have it attempt to spoon-feed me information. This one leans pleasingly to the former side.
|It's very appropriate that most of the stills from it are B&W.|
I have a bias toward this type of genre, so it was a no-brainer pick to watch for me. Still I was impressed with it -- with how effortlessly it was able to capture that element of noir that I'm partial to but have yet to be able to satisfactorily define. I doubt everyone would feel the same as I do, but I also am fairly confident that if you wouldn't feel the same, you would never bother to turn on Payback in the first place.