Great movies come from all around the world, and so do great DVDs and Blu-rays. Import This! is an irregular feature here at FSR that highlights discs and/or movies unavailable in the US that are worth seeking out for fans of fantastic cinema. We’ll cover movies both foreign and domestic, new and old, and while some discs will require region-free players others will play on any DVD or Blu-ray machine. The one thing they’ll all have in common is their status as damn fine films and/or solid entertainment currently unavailable in the US but well worth importing into your collection.
Payback (Theatrical Edition and Director’s Cut)
Country of origin: US
Blu-ray Label: Warner Bros./UK
Blu-ray Region: all region
“Not many people know what their life’s worth. I do. Seventy grand. That’s what they took from me. And now I wanted my life back.”
And so begins Mel Gibson’s 1999 blackly comedic thriller, Payback. At least that’s the way it starts if you’ve only seen the version released into theaters. Writer/director Brian Helgeland ran into some opposition with his far more serious cut of the film at Paramount, and the studio (with Gibson’s support) removed him from the production, re-shot a full third of the film (including the addition of an entirely new villain), and added narration from Gibson’s character to make him more likable. A decade later Gibson and Paramount gave him the chance to put together his preferred cut for DVD and Blu-ray (only the new version is available on Blu-ray in the US). This UK Blu-ray includes both the theatrical and the director’s cut.
Both versions follow a simple storyline. Porter (Gibson) has been double-crossed by his wife (Deborah Kara Unger) and partner in crime, Val Resnick (Gregg Henry). The duo left him for dead and took off with his share ($70,000) of their latest score, but six months later he’s back and wants only one thing… his money. Maria Bello is along for the ride as an ex-girlfriend who helps Porter in his fight against a brilliant roster of heavies including David Paymer, James Coburn, William Devane, Lucy Liu, Bill Duke, John Glover, and Kris Kristofferson (in the theatrical cut only… he replaces the voice of Sally Kellerman from the director’s cut). The movie is gritty, violent, sharply written, and easily one of Gibson’s best.
Mel Gibson’s Payback is a fantastic movie. Brian Helgeland’s Payback is equally fantastic but for completely different reasons. One is a darkly humorous action-thriller featuring the Gibson we all know and love along with many of his usual acting quirks (including the requisite torture scene). Helgeland’s cut is leaner, meaner, and much closer to feeling like the grim 70’s style crime flicks he was trying to honor and emulate. One has puns and a lively, punchy score, and the other has Porter beating the crap out of a woman and killing an unarmed man. The movies couldn’t be more different, and I honestly can’t think of another film that varies so wildly between theatrical and director’s vision… and succeeds so brilliantly with both.
Blu-ray: Warner Bros. holds the European distribution rights for Payback (as opposed to it being a Paramount release domestically), and they released the movie on Blu-ray in the UK back in 2009. Like many of WB’s releases, Payback is region-free and will play on any domestic Blu-ray player (although the Sony PS3 may have issues with the extras). Both versions are presented in beautiful and intentionally grainy 1080p HD, but there’s a distinct visual difference between the two. The theatrical cut has a deep blue tint throughout, but for the new cut Helgeland brightened the image and increased the contrast dramatically. Both look fantastic.
The disc’s extras include all of the ones from Paramount’s Straight Up: Director’s Cut Blu-ray as well as a quartet of interviews that I believe were originally on the DVD release. The two stand-out features are Helgeland’s honest and insightful commentary on the director’s cut and the “Same Story, Different Movie” featurette. It delves into the reasons Paramount and Gibson chose to wrest control of the film away from the director, but it also touches on why and how he got the opportunity to release his preferred cut almost a decade later. It’s fascinating stuff and Helgeland’s and Gibson’s honest thoughts are refreshing.
– Buy Payback on Blu-ray from Amazon.UK