Tag Archives: james coburn

Brian Helgeland’s Payback

Isn’t it always kind of more fun when the protagonist of a film is an utter scumbag? I think so, and Brian Helgeland did too when writing Payback, my favourite Mel Gibson film (outside Mad Max of course, but that’s a high pedestal to breach). There’s something so engaging about Mel’s Porter, a street rat career criminal who’s betrayed by his treacherous partner (Gregg Henry) and junkie wife (Deborah Kara Unger), left for dead in an alley. After a rocky recovery he comes back with vengeance on the mind, hunting down those who fucked him over and anyone who profited from it. The first thing he does to set tone for his character is steal cash from a panhandling hobo, which is just about the starkest way to inform your audience of what’s to come. What does Porter want? He wants his 24k from the job he got shafted on, not a penny less and, hysterically, not a penny more either, which becomes the beloved running joke of the film as he prowls streets, poker rooms, titty bars and all kinds of lowlife establishments to get what’s his. Henry is off the rails as his former partner in crime, taking his usual brand of scenery chewing to new heights and picking fights with anyone who makes eye contact with him. He isn’t even the main villain either, that honour goes to a stone-faced Kris Kristofferson as the sadistic head of a shadowy mega crime syndicate who are soon alerted of Porter’s ongoing rampage. There’s uber corrupt cops (Bill Duke, Jack Conley), a weaselly bookie (David Paymer), a bureaucrat desk jockey villain (William Devane), a high class escort with a heart of gold (Maria Bello) who brings out the faintest of softer sides in Porter, a sneering assassin (the great John Glover) and others who all get caught up in the commotion this guy causes just to get his modest 24 grand. A young Lucy Liu also shows up as a sexy S&M hooker with ties to the Triads and enough scary attitude to either turn me on or freak me out, I’m still not sure. My favourite has to be James Coburn as another organized crime hotshot who seems more interested in his elaborate accessories than putting a step to Porter’s nonsense. “That’s just mean, man” he bawls after Mel puts a bullet in one of his designer alligator skin suitcases. So damn funny. This is the epitome of jet black humour, one of the meanest, gnarliest, bloodiest and most entertaining neo-noirs that Hollywood has ever produced. Mel has played so many heroes and upstanding family men that it’s refreshing to see him go for the contemptible asshole shtick, and I’ll be honest I’ve never rooted for one of his characters harder than I do for Porter and his deranged urban crusade every time I rewatch this, which is a lot. Fucking brilliant film.

-Nate Hill

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Eraser 


Eraser is a top notch Schwarzenegger vehicle, and in a year where the only other Arnie entry was the mind numbing Jingle All The Way, it supplies 1996 with that jolt of action from our favourite Austrian juggernaut. Here he’s John Kruger, a US Marshal who specializes in an obscure wing of the witness protection program that literally wipes people’s memories clean before replacement. The technology is naturally hoarded over by big old corporations which as we know aren’t to be trusted in these type of films. During a routine mission to help beautiful client Vanessa Williams, Kruger begins to suspect his own colleagues of some shady shit involving the sale of high grade weapons, and before he knows it he in the crosshairs and on the run with Vanessa tagging along. It’s all smarmy James Caan’s fault really, who plays his devilish, treacherous superior officer at the WitSec agency, a classic case of ambition gone rogue, his villainous cackle trademark of someone you just shouldn’t trust, even before his true colours are bared. The action is fast, furious and rooted in 90’s sensibilities, with all manner of attack helicopter chases, massive artillery fired off at a whim and the the near SciFi concept frequently smothered by the shock and awe campaign of each set piece, which is fine in an Arnie flick really, I mean they can’t all be Terminators and Total Recalls. There’s a neat rogues gallery of character actors filling in the wings in addition to the big guy, Williams and Caan, including Olek Krupa, Patrick Kilpatrick, James Cromwell, Danny Nucci, Robert Pastorelli, Joe Viterelli, Mark Rolston, John Slattery, Roma Maffia, Tony Longo, Melora Walters, Camryn Mannheim, Skip Sudduth and Nick Chinlund as Caan’s unwitting henchman. There’s also a delightful cameo from James Coburn as the WitSet CEO, doing the same pleasant ‘sort of a villain, but also sort of not’ shtick he did in Payback. One of Arnie’s more low key efforts, but still more than serviceable and a slam bang damn great time at the action races.

-Nate Hill

Christopher Coppola’s Deadfall


I hear a lot of talk about how weird Nicolas Cage can get in films, and I’m always seeing top ten craziest Cage compilations on YouTube and such, but people often seem to neglect the veritable cherry on top, the big cheese of nutso Cagery, a terrible conmen flick from back when called Deadfall. This is a film directed by a member of the Coppola family, and anyone who’s done their base research knows that Cage is a member of the brood, which is the only reason he ever broke into the industry in the first place. Now as to why and how he was allowed to give the unapologetically certifiable ‘performance’ we see here, well that remains a mystery. Needless to say, this is Cage unchained, off the leash and out of the Cage, an unnecessarily clownish banshee cry of a turn that derails the entire film, eclipses every other actor and puts a big dark stain on everyone’s career. The protagonist here is Michael Biehn as a shit-outta-luck hustler who accidentally kills his own father (James Coburn, who also does double duties to play the man’s brother), and ends up in the criminal doghouse, reprimanded by his boss (Peter Fonda) and left to flounder in small time stings. Enter Eddie (The Cage) another small-potatoes loser who clashes with anyone and everyone around him, a true lunatic of a character whose left empty of any sort of engaging qualities or charisma thanks to Nic’s utterly bombastic histrionics and lunatic ravings. If I sound like I’m overselling just how fucked up his performance is or making mountains out of molehills, please feel free to jaunt on over to YouTube, type in ‘Nic Cage Deadfall’ and see for yourself. If bad performances were represented as train wrecks, this would be the infamous explosion escape scene from The Fugitive, and even that doesn’t do it justice. This is a giant schoolyard tantrum, an inexcusable, near fourth wall busting bag of uncomfortable verbal utterances and bodily contortions that make you want to call an exorcist for the poor spastic, I really don’t know how the film ever got released with such fuckery on display. Anywho, all that just drowns out literally *everything* else about the film, and when one of your actors acts out so much that they smother work from heavy hitters like Biehn and Coburn, you know your filmmaking process is handicapped beyond repair. As such, brief appearances from Michael Constantine, Talia Shire and Charlie Sheen are subsequently lost to the abyss of Cage’s deafening orbit. A mediocre film without him as it is, but add what he does to the mix and you have a true stinker, the cinematic equivalent of a spittoon filled feces. Don’t bother. 

-Nate Hill