I'm sure you're aware of the plot to this film (vengence, old flames and mucho violence) but that barely scratches the surface of this brilliant little noir. Whilst the story is basic the nuts and bolts used to make it are complex, twisting and not quite what you expect. For a start there are the characters. No good guys. Not one. Porter is a criminal. He's not even a particularly nice one. He's a killer, a thief, a thug, a gambler, a cheater, a liar and I bet he doesn't even pay his taxes. Likewise everybody else. Sadists, murderers, corrupt cops, drug dealers, gang members, mobsters, hookers. They're all here in their various shades of bad.
The success of this film relies on two people: Gibson and screenwriter/director Brian Helgeland. With the lead gleefully playing against his nice guy image Porter is as nasty as they come but still retains such charm and Gibsons trademark grin that not for one moment do you dislike him. He's cool in a way that Bruce Willis' Jackal never was. He quietly slipped across continents with hi-tech equipment in various guises waiting for his moment. Porter just walks into the hoods house with nothing but a revolver and asks for his money back. A lot of the comments I've read say that Porter is mean. He isn't. He'll just do what it takes to get his money back. He has nothing to loose so why not do it anyway. Porter is who Riggs would be if he'd never met Murtaugh. Out of control, against massive odds but just crazy enough not to give a damn.
Helgeland shows real talent as a director in his first time outing. As a scriptwriter he's always been in the upper classes with a talent for mixing unrepentant violence with uneasy humour. Here he shows he can tell a damn good story along with writing it. Nothing happens the way it's supposed to. We're used to good guys threatening to kill but always really bluffing. Porter isn't. He'll ask for what he wants, he doesn't get it, BANG, you're dead. People die at the wrong time too. Characters that are supposed to last until the end die in the middle while minors that only just arrive survive only to get whacked by the finish anyway. The motivation is all wrong as well. 70,000 is chump change to these people. The mobsters are wearing suits worth more than that. But Porter wants that and nothing more. He spends most of the film correcting people who think he's after more.
While based on the same source material as Point Blank, Payback is nothing like it stylistically. The first used understated violence. Payback goes for the jugular and rips it out with copious amounts of rheseus negative. It's hard to see this film working without this combo of star and director. If you had, say Sylvester Stallone or Nicolas Cage and Richard Donner or Joel Schumacher in charge you'd just have a bunch of nasty people doing nasty things with none of the ghoulishly comic touches that make Porter cool. Be thankful it's the combination it is and then go and see it. If you like thrillers you'll love this.