Dennis Laumen We who cut mere stones must always be envisioning cathedrals

Film Review: Paycheck (2003) (Rating: * *)

(Before this review starts I will have to tell you that English is not my native language and this is the first real review I ever wrote so bear with me and give me some constructive criticism after reading this.)

As I was taking a break from some work I had to do today I watched the film Paycheck (2003). I had mixed emotions before viewing this one and I will tell you why.

On one hand I was really interested in this film because it was based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, which pretty much guarantees a good basic concept for making a film. Although I have never read one of his books all the films I saw based on his stories introduced at the very least some very interesting visions of the future (Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (1990), Minority Report (2002)).

On the other hand it stars Ben Affleck as the protagonist which basically destroyed all interest I had in this film. He played some great roles as a supporting character but the more rounded his characters got the more I wondered what kind of sexual favours this guy had to give to get these acting jobs.

On top of that it was directed by John Woo. This guy gave us some pretty good action scenes in the past but I am not a great fan of his storytelling (Although The Killer (1989) was a great movie).


Anyway let's stop the whining and start the review shall we. The film is basically a sci-fi action thriller. The story in itself is pretty good. Michael Jennings, our male protagonist, is a reverse engineer. He takes apart technological innovations of his employers competition, figures out what makes them work the way they do and creates a superior copy of the product. After he finishes a project his memory is erased to guarantee confidentiality. Michael has no problems with this as his life is kind of shallow anyway. This is further explained in one of the deleted scenes on the DVD, which states that he lost his pregnant wife and the baby she was carrying some time a go.

The story starts when Michael gets offered to do an enormous project which would take approximately three years of his life but which would make him a very wealthy man. As we all know if something sounds too good to be true it usually is. He accepts the job and after getting introduced to his co-workers the story skips the next three years and we see Michael after his project is successfully finished.

This wouldn't be an action thriller if nothing went wrong. Michael receives an envelope filled with personal properties he deposited before the start of the project and decides to pay a visit to the bank to make some financial arrangements. Arriving at the bank he finds out that before his memory was erased he gave away all his money. To further enhance the mystery the envelope he received is filled with stuff that isn't his.

When Michael discovers this, the adventure begins. He is chased by his employer (who apparently set him up) and the government for something he did. Something he doesn't remember. As it turns out Michael switched the contents of the envelope himself before his memory got wiped. The contents of this envelope are the pieces of the puzzle to finding out what went wrong before his memories got thrown in the trash can.

The reverse engineering done by Michael isn't just a profession randomly picked by the writers of the film. It's a metaphor for what Michael is about to do. The film follows Michael trying to reverse engineer the past three years of his life.This is all I can tell you about the story without further spoiling the film for you so let's talk about the acting work in it.


OK, Ben Affleck... If you read the whole review so far you will know that I'm not his biggest fan. I must say the awkward scenes in this film are limited. Woo probably knew what a great actor Affleck was and decided not to give the character too many emotional scenes. This works quite well as I found myself not very irritated with the man after the film was over.

Uma Thurman plays Rachel Porter the female lead and love interest of Michael Jennings. Although her acting isn't anything special (she had one mildly interesting scene to show us what she can do) she gets the job done.

Aaron Eckhart is your stereotypical good guy who gets corrupted by money and power and turns to the dark side. He is the bad guy of the film and I must say: "I like his acting!". I don't remember seeing a film in which he caught my attention but to me he proved he is one fine actor.

OK, now some more whining. There are some scenes in the film which I found quite strange. The movie starts with Michael trying to reverse engineer a revolutionary monitor/TV which can project 3D images. The funny thing about it is that while reverse engineering this fine piece of hardware he uses a holographic 3D user interface (like Tom Cruise uses in Minority Report) to analyze the product... doesn't this kind of undermine the revolutionary aspect of this 3D monitor?

Another thing I don't understand and please drop a line if you don't agree with me is that I find it quite hard to believe that a man whose memories and therefore his work experience is constantly erased can continue to be the best reverse engineer there is. I found this quite an interesting subject. It raises the question whether our skills are dependant of memories.

Something else which bothered me a lot was something which could be seen during the brain wipe process. There was a monitor present which showed the patients memories. The funny thing about it is that these memories are all shown in a third person perspective and none are in a first person perspective.

And last but certainly not least... Why does a company that is so extremely paranoid about privacy allow a man whom they betrayed to send himself a security card? It just doesn't make sense. But that seems to be the trend in Hollywood nowadays.

Enough with the whining, let's wrap up our review here and write a little conclusion.

Payback is an entertaining film. Nothing more, nothing less. It has some nice action sequences but it really misses some emotional and philosophical depth which would have made the film a whole lot more interesting for me. Basically Paycheck is an entertaining action film with nothing really special or distinguishable. It has some flaws but none of them are really spoiling the film for me.

The only thing that really irritated me afterwards is that this adaptation of Philip K. Dick's short story could have been so much more. The concept is really great and could have been the basis for something truly good. Now it's just the basis for a standard Hollywood product.

All in all I award this film with two stars out of five. The original score I gave it was two and a half stars but after reading this review again I realised it contained way too much errors.

Please let me know what you think about this review or tell me how strongly you disagree with my opinion concerning Paycheck.

I will write some more reviews soon for some other films I recently saw.