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  DOWSE movie guide review of Payback

Payback
Director: Brian Helgeland
97 minutes (18) Warner 14.99
review by Jeff Young

Mel Gibson is on good form here as a too-stubborn-to-die robber, betrayed by his partner in crime (Gregg Henry), shot by his wife (Deborah Kara Unger), and left for dead. The story is narrated in part by Gibson and these voice-over comments are unnecessary, but not especially intrusive and fit in with the gangster milieu. Gibson's ex-Marine tough guy only wants the mere $70 grand that his betrayer gave to the mafia and he endures frequent beatings and torture (bits of this have obviously been cut) to get it. There's some good humour in the fact that our hero refuses, on principle, offers of double the above figure, and there's humour in a much darker vein too as the violence escalates from shooting to bombings.
   Gibson's audacious plot against the Mob (led by William Devane, James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson), is impractical and nearly suicidal but he cleverly disposes of all opposition - including a pair of crooked cops and a heavily armed Asian gang. Debutant director Brian Helgeland wrote the screenplay for the excellent LA Confidential and it shows. Although a little predictable, this film is quite similar in tone, albeit set in contemporary Chicago rather than period California.
   Maria Bello and especially Lucy Liu, as a dominatrix, furnish the glamour. The palette of muted colours employed for Ericson Core's admirable cinematography provides the film's style. And if all of this sounds reminiscent of John Boorman's Point Blank (1967) it's because both films are based on a novel by Donald E. Westlake. Payback is an entertaining modern film noir but it clearly lacks the skill and emotional resonance that Lee Marvin invested in the sixties classic.

Jeff Young
originally published in VideoVista #15 (June 2000)

DOWSE Guide to the Movies is compiled by Tony Lee editor of Pigasus Press
You can order videos and DVD releases reviewed on these pages at Blackstar

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