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The Parker Films: Payback Director’s Cut (1999/2006)

November 4th, 2020
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We’re in the home-stretch of my journey to watch the films based on Donald E. Westlake (written under the pseudonym Richard Stark)’s Parker Character.  I really enjoyed 1967’s Point Blank (click here for my review) and 1968’s The Split (click here for my review).  I thought 1973’s The Outfit was a step down, though I did still enjoy the film.  (Click here for my review.)  Sadly I thought 1983’s Slayground was a dud.  (Click here for my review.)  Now we’ve arrived at Payback, which was released theatrically in 1999.

The film has an interesting history.  It was written and directed by Brian Helgeland, who wrote the (fantastic) script for L.A. Confidential (which was directed by Curtis Hanson).  But the film released to theaters in 1999 was not really Mr. Helgeland’s film.  After the studio objected to his cut, Payback was significantly re-written (by Terry Hayes) and re-shot (by John Myhre).  I remember, vaguely, seeing the film in theaters.  I recall thinking it was mediocre.  Years later, in 2006, Mr. Helgeland was given the opportunity to restore his original vision, and his Director’s Cut was released to DVD in 2006.  I’ve heard for years that this Director’s Cut was a far superior version of the film, and I was excited for the opportunity to arrive at this stop in my journey through the Parker films.

To my surprise, it brought me full circle because Payback, like 1967’s Point Blank, is an adaptation of the first Parker novel, The Hunter.  It’s fascinating to see that story depicted through Mr. Helgeland’s unique eye.  The Payback Director’s Cut bears a number of similarities to Point Blank, but it’s also a very different film, which I was pleased to see.

The basic plot is similar: after a successful heist, the Parker character (once again given a different name: this time it’s Porter) is betrayed by the woman he loves (Lynn) and his partner (Val).  They leave him for dead, but he survives and eventually returns to town, looking for payback and the money he’s owed.  But Val has used that money to repay a debt to the Outfit, the criminal enterprise in the city.  So Porter soon finds himself up not just against Val but the forces of the Outfit.

I quite enjoyed the Director’s Cut of Payback.  However, whoof, I can understand why the studios was reluctant to release this version of the film.  This is a DARK, tough, ugly film.  I was surprised by how violent and unlikable the early Parker films allowed the Parker character to be, but wowsers, this one has them all beat.  When Porter gets back into town and finds his … [continued]