Payback (1999): Brian Helgeland’s Directing Debut Starring Mel Gibson

Brian Helgeland, the acclaimed screenwriter of the 1997 Oscar-winner “L.A. Confidential” and “Conspiracy Theory,” makes a disappointing directing debut with “Payback,” an adaptation of the novel “The Hunter” by Donald E. Westlake, writing under the pseudonym, Richard Stark.

Since the same novel served as the basis for John Boorman’s great noir thriller, Point Blank, starring Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson, comparisons were inevitable.

Dark, nasty, and pointless, this violent actioner stars Mel Gibson as Porter, a man pulled into a heist by his old friend, Val (Gregg Henry). They believe that because they’re stealing $130,000 in laundered drug money from the Chinese Triads, no one is going to call the police.

Everything seems to go smoothly until Porter’s wife, Lynn (Deborah Kara Unger), shoots Porter in the back. Val had shown Lynn a photo of Porter cheating on her with another girl (Maria Bello), and the two plan a double-cross in order to pay off Val’s mob debts so that he could return to “The Syndicate.”

Not particularly bright, the duo have not planned well enough as, five months later, Porter returns as a complete sociopath, who demands his $70,000.

“Payback” recalls–for all the wrong reasons– the equally mean-spirited, nasty, and mindless “To Live and Die in L.A” of 1985.


Directed By: Brian Helgeland.

Screenplay: Terry Hayes and Brian Helgeland

Released: February 5, 1999

DVD: July 27, 1999

Running time: 100 minutes