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Year: 1999
Director: Brian Helgeland

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Cast:

Mel Gibson (Porter), Gregg Henry (Val Resnick), Maria Bello (Rosie), David Paymer (Arthur Stegman), Bill Duke (Det. Hicks), Deborah Kara Unger (Mrs. Lynn Porter), John Glover (Phil), William Devane (Carter), Lucy Liu (Pearl (as Lucy Alexis Liu)), Jack Conley (Det. Leary), Kris Kristofferson (Bronson), Mark Alfa (Johnny's Friend #2), Kwame Amoaku (Radioman), Justin Ashforth (Michael), Bartender #1, 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)

Storyline:

Porter is a small time but tough criminal, who's primary gig, is robbery. Now his friend Val Resnick needs $130,000 to pay back a criminal group known as "The Outfit". He tells Porter about some Asian couriers who carry $300,000, Porter agrees to it on the condition that they split the take. When they hit them, they discover that they only have $140,000, and Resnick says that, that's what they always carry. He pulls out a gun and shoots Porter in the back and leaves him to die. However, Porter manages to make it to a doctor, and get treated, when he recovers, he sets out to get Resnick and his share $70,000. He begins by approaching an associate of Resnick's. Porter then seeks out a prostitute named Rosie, whom he knew, she tells him where he can find Resnick, when he does he tells Resnick that he should go to his employers and ask them to give him back $70,000 of the money he gave them, Resnick says that's impossible but Porter "convinces" him to do it. Resnick then goes to his boss, Mr. Carter, who tells him that it's in their best interest to help Resnick deal with Porter. Carter orders one of his men to take Porter out but Porter's just too good for them. Resnick then asks his girlfriend who knows the people whom he and Porter stole the money from, and tells her to tell them where they can find him. When they do they are interrupted by two policemen, but they are crooked who are under the impression that Porter's going after $200,000-300,000 and are going to get it. Can Porter deal with all these people and still get his money.

Reviews:

How much is $70,000 worth to you? I'm sure that right now 70 grand would come in real handy. But is it worth numerous beatings, getting shot, being run over and having your toes mashed by a hammer? It is to Porter.

I'm sure you're aware of the plot to this film (vengence, old flames and mucho violence) but that barely scratches the surface of this brilliant little noir. Whilst the story is basic the nuts and bolts used to make it are complex, twisting and not quite what you expect. For a start there are the characters. No good guys. Not one. Porter is a criminal. He's not even a particularly nice one. He's a killer, a thief, a thug, a gambler, a cheater, a liar and I bet he doesn't even pay his taxes. Likewise everybody else. Sadists, murderers, corrupt cops, drug dealers, gang members, mobsters, hookers. They're all here in their various shades of bad.

The success of this film relies on two people: Gibson and screenwriter/director Brian Helgeland. With the lead gleefully playing against his nice guy image Porter is as nasty as they come but still retains such charm and Gibsons trademark grin that not for one moment do you dislike him. He's cool in a way that Bruce Willis' Jackal never was. He quietly slipped across continents with hi-tech equipment in various guises waiting for his moment. Porter just walks into the hoods house with nothing but a revolver and asks for his money back. A lot of the comments I've read say that Porter is mean. He isn't. He'll just do what it takes to get his money back. He has nothing to loose so why not do it anyway. Porter is who Riggs would be if he'd never met Murtaugh. Out of control, against massive odds but just crazy enough not to give a damn.

Helgeland shows real talent as a director in his first time outing. As a scriptwriter he's always been in the upper classes with a talent for mixing unrepentant violence with uneasy humour. Here he shows he can tell a damn good story along with writing it. Nothing happens the way it's supposed to. We're used to good guys threatening to kill but always really bluffing. Porter isn't. He'll ask for what he wants, he doesn't get it, BANG, you're dead. People die at the wrong time too. Characters that are supposed to last until the end die in the middle while minors that only just arrive survive only to get whacked by the finish anyway. The motivation is all wrong as well. 70,000 is chump change to these people. The mobsters are wearing suits worth more than that. But Porter wants that and nothing more. He spends most of the film correcting people who think he's after more.

While based on the same source material as Point Blank, Payback is nothing like it stylistically. The first used understated violence. Payback goes for the jugular and rips it out with copious amounts of rheseus negative. It's hard to see this film working without this combo of star and director. If you had, say Sylvester Stallone or Nicolas Cage and Richard Donner or Joel Schumacher in charge you'd just have a bunch of nasty people doing nasty things with none of the ghoulishly comic touches that make Porter cool. Be thankful it's the combination it is and then go and see it. If you like thrillers you'll love this.

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If you don't like violence, then don't watch this movie. If you are open to great storytelling and gritty dialogue, this is the movie for you. In some ways superior to the remake and just as gripping. Some have hated this film just because of what it was, and that's a shame for them that they can't enjoy a film that neither glorifies nor trashes the underside of life. In a weird way, the main character Porter (who was Walker in the Lee Marvin film, played this time by Mel Gibson who is almost as good as Lee Marvin. Nobody could be better than Marvin in this kind of role) has a kind of decency code of his own even though it is more than a bit twisted. After all, in a world inhabited by criminals, the rules change significantly and so once has to either adapt or find a way out. Porter does both in both versions.

No sense in rehashing the plot. Suffice it to say that it is about a crook who got burned and wants what is coming to him and gets even along the way. Besides, the plot has been recounted by so many better reviewers than myself. I can only say that in "Point Blank" the ending is a bit more ambiguous. A precursor to the films of the 1970s.

It's always hard for me to rate one film version over another. It is almost impossible to not want to (in my mind at least) mix and match actors in roles. James Coburn played the same part as did Carroll O'Connor in the original and they are both perfect while being so different. After all, they were both accomplished actors. And maybe I could have done without a lot of the S&M and B&D scenes in the newer version but I chalk that up to the changes in the world since the 1960s.

Long before there was a Quentin Tarrantino, there were great directors like Don Siegel, Sam Peckinpah and Sam Fuller who were as tough as nails and not just some fan who knew how to use the best of all of these guys brilliant touches, and add some sick jokes. But director/writer Brain Helgeland does spectacularly well with the material, while the new cast shines in their roles almost as though they weren't acting, but living the parts. And that goes right down to the underrated David Paymer as a pathetic hustler (who could easily have been played in earlier times by an Elisha Cook Jr. as he did with the Wilmer role from "The Maltese Falcon" yet Paymer does so with more humor.) It is hard to make one root for people so lacking in morals but director, writer and actors manage amazingly well.

Both "Payback" and "Point Blank" are instant classics that should be considered as such. And God bless the memories of Lee Marvin and John Vernon (both in the original "Point Blank" version.) Such fine thespians will be sorely missed. Fortunately, their memories are on celluloid and other mediums to be enjoyed by many more audiences.

You might have guessed I really love these two movies.

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