Film Commentary No. 1 [2-23-99]
Torturing Mel Gibson - - Payback
Genre: Action/Gangster



Am I the only one, or has anyone else noticed that Mel Gibson seems to be exclusively selecting roles that have a common background plot element, i.e. that sometime during the film, sometimes with multiple occurrences, the Mel Gibson character is hideously tortured in some manner? A review of Mel’s filmography reveals:

Lethal Weapon: psychologically self-tortured to suicidal tendencies by the death of his wife;
Man Without a Face: horribly disfigured and shunned by society;
Hamlet: psychologically tortured as a result of the murder of his father and his mother shacking up with his uncle;
Mad Max: shot in the knee, mental anguish of having wife and child killed by bikers;
The Road Warrior: eats dog food, shot, banged up in a car wrecks, his dog is killed and has a feral kid follow him around;
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome: gets car stolen and is forced to chase it in bare feet in a stony desert, shovels pig shit, forced into individual combat while suspended on bungie cords, beaten, stomped, tied backward to a horse with and forced into a desert were he nearly dies of thirst, hangs upside down by one leg, and forced to endure a horde of annoying children who don’t speak english;
Braveheart: hanged, disemboweled and his head chopped off;
Conspiracy Theory: tied to a wheelchair with his eyes tapped open, injected with mind altering drugs and dunked upside down, headfirst into water; run down a staircase while strapped to the wheelchair ending up with a wheel wire embedded in his leg; runs around the hospital in a hospital gown while handcuffed to a hospital bed frame and is then hanged by his wrist trying to take the bedframe down a laundry shoot, and just plain nuts.

Mel’s current movie “Payback” is no exception. In this very good movie, Mel’s character “Porter” is an absolutely reprehensible character played as the “antihero.” This follows in the tradition of Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name” and like Eastwood’s man, you never learn Porter’s first name, or for that matter whether its his first or last name.

The movie opens with Porter laying on a optometrist’s table getting bullets pulled from his back after being betrayed out of $70,000 from a robbery by his psycho friend (Gregg Henry) and gunned down by his wife (Deborah Unger). A year later, Porter is healed up and running around the city, jumping over train turnstiles, stealing cash from a supposedly homeless veteran’s collection hat and chocking him when he objects, pickpocketing a stranger’s wallet and then running up his credit card bills and ruins his credit. He then tracks down his wife, who by the way, is now a heroin addict and promptly overdoses. This begins the long and complicated journey of Porter’s search for compensation and revenge in the form of demanding that he gets back the $70,000.

During the course of the movie, Porter is beaten up several times, run over by a car, beaten and blackmailed by two crooked cops, locked in a car trunk, nearly castrated by Chinese gangsters and, oh yes, tied to a chair and savagely tortured with two of his toes crushed with a sledgehammer.

Wittily written with a surprise ending, this film is destined to make my top ten list for 1999.. James Coburn, Kris Kristofferson and William Devane hand in excellent performances as gangster bosses whom Porter eventually dispatches in his quest for “payback.”

Grade = A-


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