I’ve been a big John Woo fan ever since that day when I saw The Killer with Tim at the Coolidge Corner theater in Brookline. Once he came over to the USA, his films took a bit of a turn downward. They didn’t have the same edginess, drama, or stylizations of his Hong Kong flicks. Personally, I’d blame the studios. But even with all that extra pressure, he did manage to crank out a film like Face/Off which seemed to be a great studio Woo flick. His last film, Windtalkers was a financial bomb because MGM didn’t know what to do with it, and they cut out a lot of the “meat”. (Thankfully, the Director’s Cut DVD has restored that.) His latest film, Paycheck is based on a Philip K. Dick story; it’s got that going for it, certainly!
Taking place in the near-future, Paycheck follows reverse-engineer Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck), who is hired to work on a 3-year project. When it’s done, his memory is erased. And instead of his paycheck, he has 19 items… clues that will lead to an explaination of why people are trying to kill him, and what he had been working on for the past three years. In the middle of it all is Rachel (Uma Thurman), a biologist who had a relationship with Jennings during the 3 years he’s trying to put back together.
The film had a rather enjoyable pace to it, and never got boring. The sci-fi elements were hazy at best, but this was more about the pieces of the puzzle being put back together than anything else. In the process, Woo gave us quite a few action setpieces, and while they were certainly all enjoyable and even exciting, they didn’t quite feel like “John Woo action scenes”. Maybe it’s because there was a surprising lack of slow-motion shots! (But plenty of freeze-frames throughout the film.) Die-hard fans need not worry: the dove does show up.
John Powell’s score was quite good, and Jeffrey Kimball’s photograph was, as always, tight and crisp (but not stylized). Opening on Christmas Day, Paycheck is a thinking-man’s action thriller, one that I rather enjoyed. After you all see Return of the King a dozen times, go see Paycheck – there’s nothing else out in its category.