Wednesday, February 10, 1999


Posted By on Wed, Feb 10, 1999 at 12:00 AM

He’s tough. He’s mean. He’s a killing machine. He wants one thing: $70,000, his cut from the heist he’s pulled with his buddy, Val (Gregg Henry). He moves in a world of mathematically challenged thugs — 70,000, goddamnit, not 130,000! — and that makes things a tad difficult.

He never bluffs. When shot, he bleeds buckets of blood and throws intense, metallic-blue glances into the soft eye of the camera. The camera loves his face. Lots of close-ups.

The only woman for him is a hooker with a heart of gold by the name of Rosie (Maria Bello). His wife (Deborah Kara Unger), the one who shot him, the one who took off with Val, is dead. Poetic justice. Now he can make an honest woman of Rosie: “If she stops hookin’, I stop shootin’,” he says.

His name is Porter (Mel Gibson) and he’s a man on a mission. Give him his money or bite the dust. “Porter takes the gloves off from the get-go,” says Gibson. “He’ll roll with whatever they throw at him. He might be a thief, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a man completely without honor. He has a perverse sense of justice.”

Porter’s “perverse sense of justice” leaves behind an impressive body count. But for all the delightful voice-overs (Mike Hammer meets Quentin Tarantino), the perfectly choreographed punches and the comic relief provided by Val’s kinky partner, Pearl (Lucy Liu), director Brian Helgeland’s Payback is surprisingly empty. Not only devoid of feeling: That we could understand, for Porter is “an emotional cripple,” a lone gunman trapped in a gray, stone city with rusted alleys and rough neighborhoods. But empty as in detached, fragmented, uncaring.

Though slick and crafty, Mel Gibson’s stylized performance isolates the character both from the world within the film and from the world without. As Porter wins or loses; as he stumbles, falls, retrieves composure, cries in pain or utters truths of his own making, we watch him — always from a distance, always removed from the heart of the story — uncaring, slightly amused, empty.


We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at [email protected].

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Detroit Metro Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Metro Times Press Club for as little as $5 a month.

More by Dayana Stetco

Read the Digital Print Issue

January 26, 2022

View more issues


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In Detroit

© 2022 Detroit Metro Times - Contact Us

Website powered by Foundation