Dear Paramount, RE: Brian Helgeland's Director's Cut of PAYBACK: STRAIGHT UP. From Harry Knowles.
Harry Knowles here. I’ve just seen Brian Helgeland’s cut of PAYBACK. Nearly 9 years ago I saw this cut. I very much remember the fights and rumors that flew around when he was booted from the project and the reshoots came to pass.
Tonight, Brian screened his cut here in Austin to thunderous applause. Not only that, but Brian’s Q&A was legendary, detailing the patience of Job as the entire executive teams at Warner Bros. & Paramount changed, leaving not a single decision maker in place to stop him getting a chance to finally finish the film his way. I applaud the fact that the current Paramount Executive team saw merit in allowing Helgeland to finally finishing his cut. The result is spectacular.
Finally, the film I was crazy about is done.
PAYBACK: STRAIGHT UP – The Director’s Cut isn’t some minor adjustment to sell DVDs – it is a complete overhaul. No Kris Kristofferson, no kidnapped son sub-plot, no boxing match and not any pulled punches. This is a mean sucker punch, gutter dirty, pissed off piece of pulp art! Mel is not “the likable superstar” in this film. He beats the shit out of Deborah Kara Unger in this version, he is straight to the point, no cookie cutter bullshit. This is the way a Parker novel by Donald Westlake should be handled.
The film is leaner and meaner. There are no explosions and needless tacked on gore. This is brutal and hard-nosed… Oh, and IMMENSELY SATISFYING!!!
Here’s the problem though. At this point, according to Helgeland at the screening, the film will most likely end up going to DVD in February or March – with a minor dump into a few theaters here or there.
I completely get how this film from 7 years ago isn’t a big priority. It was a tiny, small budget film from a prior regime – that did its business on DVD. Also – the investment in allowing Brian to finish this cut is also minuscule. I, also completely get that if you just hit this straight to DVD, you’ll make a killing, theoretically.
However, PAYBACK isn’t one of the great Mel Gibson movies in most people’s eyes. It was that Mel flick he did before LETHAL WEAPON 4. The one where he didn’t fight Jet Li. Well… To really get the audience’s attention – I think you’ve got to get this film back on to screens.
This is a radically different film. Better music, better editing, better storytelling and just flat out a great film.
I don’t expect PARAMOUNT to make it a big release. Frankly, I don’t think that would work. However, I really think handing the film over to PARAMOUNT VANTAGE would be an ideal way to treat this tiny crime film the way it ought to be treated, with a team that would help it in a limited release, that built upon the critical acclaim that this cut would receive by critics everywhere.
Word would build and build about this version of the film.
This would also help Paramount to gain the reputation as an artist friendly studio. Helgeland has been punched around too often. First on this film, then manhandled by Tom Rothman on SINEATER – another film that we’ll have to wait however long it takes before Mr. “I don’t make movies, I make Audiences” is running things over there.
Be the heroes of this film’s long ascent out of darkness. It isn’t everyday that a great film emerges from the manhandling of an oppressive regime as the wonderful film it once was. Let folks see the best 70s crime film since the 70s on the big screen like it has never been seen.
Start in 8 cities and let it grow. This is a film that has absolutely earned its second chance. It crawled out of its premature burial to get finished what should have been done ages ago. Now it deserves its days and nights on a theater near everyone out there that has wanted to see a film that earns every second it plays.
And as for all you dear readers. I know Mel isn’t the most popular guy right now, but this isn’t about Mel Gibson, it’s about Brian Helgeland, the writer of L.A. CONFIDENTIAL and his lean mean crime film that didn’t pull a punch. This isn’t a bloated tale with 3 subplots too many. This isn’t a film to make your bladder burst. This is a quick pulpy ride that kicks ass all over it’s fictional play-ground. I truly hope you get the opportunity to see this on the big screen, I did tonight – and I never thought I would. It’s been worth the wait!