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Fairfax: You just signed your own death warrant for a hundred and thirty thousand dollars. I don't get that. What is it? Uh, the principle or something, huh?
Porter: Stop it, I'm getting misty. And tell him it's seventy, will ya? (Turns and leaves)
Fairfax: Seventy?! What do you mean it's only seventy? Seventy thousand? Hell, my suits are worth more than that!
Payback is a 1999 thriller starring Mel Gibson as Porter, a thief betrayed by his partner after a heist and determined to get revenge and more importantly, recover his $70,000 share of the takings.
Six months ago, Porter was a happy man. He was a successful but low profile Consummate Professional thief who specialized in payroll jobs. He was married. He also had a relationship with Rosie, a High Class Call Girl on the side. Then he agreed to help out Val Resnick, a sadistic crook he'd worked with in the past, to steal some money from the Triads. The job goes perfectly, but it turns out that Val really needed all the money from the job, not half, and that Val had told Porter's wife about Rosie. The result is that when they meet up after the job, Porter's wife shoots him several times, Val takes the money, and they leave Porter for dead.
Instead of dying, Porter managed to crawl off to a Back-Alley Doctor and spent a few months recovering from his wounds. Now he's back, and it doesn't matter if he has to work his way through drug dealers, prostitutes, Triads, bent cops, The Syndicate and Lucy Liu playing a dominatrix, he's going to get his money back.
And just when it can't get any better, Kris Kristofferson shows up.
The film is based on the same source material as Lee Marvin's Point Blank.
This film contains examples of:
- Anti-Hero: Porter is no white knight, he's a murderer and a thief out to steal back something he stole in the first place. He kills, mutilates, and brutalizes without mercy as a method to expedite his robbery. He just looks less tarnished than his sadistic, back-stabbing, racist, woman beating ex-partner.
- Author Appeal: Gibson's changes to the original film include adding a scene in which his character is tortured. Torture scenes seem to be rather common in films that Gibson helms.
- Back-Alley Doctor: An alcoholic one who drinks from the same liquor he sterilizes his tools in.
- Badass - Porter.
- Batman Gambit - The climax of the film, in which Porter fools Bronson and his men into going to the booby-trapped apartment.
- Big Bad - Bronson.
- Black and Gray Morality: Big time.
- Blood From the Mouth - Porter does this at the end of the Director's Cut. It's left ambiguous as to whether he survives.
- Bulletproof Human Shield: Porter briefly uses Stegman as this, although instead of just standing there and letting his shield soak up bullets, Porter is immediately moving out of the way.
- Catch Phrase - Several people say that The Outfit will kill them if they give Porter any information. Porter's response is always the same: "What do you think I'm gonna do to you? Worry about me."
- Combat Pragmatist: Porter loves this trope. Ripping out piercings and hiding weapons are his specialties.
- Chekhov's Gun - The booby-trapped phone.
- Chekhov's Skill: Also, Rosie asks whether Porter can stand up to being tortured. He can, in a way.
- Combat Sadomasochist - Pearl smiles and licks the blood when she gets hit in the face, and begins visibly panting in excitement when a handgun is pointed at her.
- Compressed Vice: If Mrs. Porter was an addict before shooting Porter, the brief scenes and flashbacks don't show it, making her a Functional Addict at worst. She's since gone all the way to barely being able to walk because of all the drugs in her system.
- Determinator - Porter.
- Dirty Cop - Two of them, refusing to believe that the stakes of Porter's job are as low as he claims, try to horn in on the operation and claim a cut of the money. Porter swipes the badge of one and gets the other to put his fingerprints on a gun, then planted both on the body of a man killed with that gun. They get taken away by Internal Affairs.
- Dirty Coward: Arthur Stegman.
- Establishing Character Moment: The opening of the movie is Porter being a dick. Jumping turnstiles, robbing a begging "crippled Vietnam veteran", stealing wallets, skipping out on lunch checks, not tipping...
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Bronson and his spoiled son Johnny. Naturally, that gives Porter a way to really get under Bronson's skin.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Fairfax hates torture and begs Porter to be reasonable and skip the whole interrogation routine. Also, Porter says that he won't kill Stegman in front of a bunch of schoolkids.
- Evil Versus Evil: Hell, the film's tagline was "Get ready to root for the bad guy".
- Executive Meddling: Leading to a third of the movie being reshot by a different (uncredited) director. Main focuses for changes were softening up Porter's character, changing the villain to Bronson and a more upbeat ending.
- Flaw Exploitation: Porter uses this repeatedly against his opponents. When scouting the Triads he notes that they aren't wearing seat belts, and gets them into a bone jarring car crash. He ditches his gun before going in to meet Carter, so that Carter's security will relax and not notice the brass knuckles he slips on afterwards. He kidnaps Bronson's son and uses that against him. Etc.
- Frame-Up - Porter frames the Corrupt Cops for the murder of his double-crossing partner to get them off his back.
- Going Cold Turkey: When Porter finds his wife again, he plans to have her do this. Unfortunately she has more drugs hidden in the house and an overdose ensues.
- Guns Akimbo - Porter vs. the Triad minivan. With revolver in one of his hands.
- High Class Call Girl: Rosie, especially since she works for The Syndicate now.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold - Rosie. Pearl... not so much.
- Humble Goal - Everyone is surprised that Porter is only after $70,000. Most assume that he would at least want Val Resnick's share too. Others, like the dirty cops, say that no one would go through this for such a low amount of money.
- I Have Your Wife: Porter kidnaps Bronson's son.
- Insistent Terminology - Porter is frequently corrected that the Syndicate is now called the Outfit.
- Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique - With a hammer.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Porter is a ruthless all around cad, but in the theatrical version he does genuinely love Rosie and the closing narration makes clear that he's considering a new line of work. The director's cut is something of an aversion, and has some extra Kick the Dog moments not in the theatrical, including Porter beating the hell out of his wife.
- Karma Houdini: Pearl.
- Kick the Dog: Val literally shoots Rosie's dog, smacks her around, talks about raping and beating her. If that's not enough for him to cross the Moral Event Horizon, we also can assume from some dialog that he has beaten Rosie and maybe other Syndicate call girls in the past, he keeps Mrs. Porter supplied with and hooked on drugs, and is casually racist.
- Kick Them While They Are Down: Val repeatedly beats on a semi-conscious Triad member when he and Porter steal their cash.
- Mafia Princess: Bronson's son is a rare male example.
- One-Scene Wonder: James Coburn as Fairfax and Kris Kristofferson as Bronson.
- Only One Name - Lampshaded when Carter asks Resnick for Porter's first name and Resnick has to think for a second before admitting he has no idea.
- Percussive Pickpocket: Does this at the beginning, among other unscrupulous things.
- Phony Veteran: The beggar Porter steals from lied about being crippled, so he may well have been lying about being a vet too. Since Porter has a USMC tattoo, he probably doesn't take too kindly to the whole arrangement.
- Politically-Incorrect Villain: Val throws out some casual anti-Chinese comments just to add more flavor to his character. "You know what the problem is with kicking a Chow's ass? An hour later you want to do it again!"
- Punch Clock Villain: Fairfax doesn't seem like a bad guy at all. He's just come back from vacation swimming with dolphins and comes across like a hippy. He speaks out against the torture at the end as well. Still, he's in the top management of the Syndicate.
- Re Cut - The Directors Cut removes the narration, cuts certain scenes and completely changes the ending of the film.
- Screw the Money, I Have Rules: To a degree. Porter's not greedy, he just wants what he should have gotten in the first place.
- A Simple Plan: How complicated could it be for Porter to track down Val and force him to give the money back? A lot more complicated than you would think, apparently.
- The Stoic: Porter, of course. There are a couple of other cases too, most notably Carter, who barely emotes even when Porter shoots him.
- The Syndicate - It's the Outfit baby, we don't say Syndicate anymore.
- Vapor Trail - Porter dispatches Carter's men this way.
- We Named the Monkey "Jack" - Rosie's dog is named Porter.
- Xanatos Speed Chess: Porter mixes between planning things ahead and winging it when needed. And when a complication comes up, he finds new ways to deal with it. Best shown when the Outfit's goons grab him after he reveals that he's kidnapped Bronson's son, negating Porter's plan. He comes up with a new one in the middle of being tortured and leads them into a trap.
- You Can't Go Home Again: Porter's first act on returning to the city is to find his ex-wife, tell her she's going to get off drugs when he sees how messed up she is, and lie beside her in their bed while he has flashbacks that include them during better days. When he wakes up, he finds that she's died of an overdose.