Paycheck


Directed by: John Woo
Written by:Dean Georgaris
Starring: Ben Affleck, Aaron Eckhart, Uma Thurman, Paul Giamatti, Colm Feore, Joe Morton
Released: March 18, 2004
Grade: B+

It’s only March but Paycheck is now the third film to be released in 2004 on the concept of time travel (following Timeline and The Butterfly Effect).  The concept of the film is rather interesting – as one would expect given that it is adapted from a short story by science-fiction guru Philip K. Dick (Blade Runner, Minority Report).  It centres on reverse engineer Michael Jennings (played by Ben Affleck).  A reverse engineer is one who buys a competitors product, pulls it apart, figures out how it works, and then puts together a better and improved model.

Jennings’ employer is good friend James Rethrick (Eckhart) who knows the importance of confidentiality and security in his business.  At the end of each job, Jennings willingly submits himself to a medical procedure whereby his memory of the previous job is erased.  This way, Jennings cannot use the knowledge gained against the company.

Most jobs last only a few weeks but Rethrick approaches Jennings with a life changing opportunity.  The job will take 2-3 years to complete but the rewarding paycheck will be an eight figure sum.  Jennings thinks it over and realises he could lose three years of his life as a result but eventually, he accepts the lucrative offer.

The next thing Jennings will remember is sitting in the office of James Rethrick.  Three years has passed and he has no knowledge of it.  He heads to his investment broker for his paycheck only to discover he signed an agreement four weeks earlier to forgo his enormous salary.  Instead, he asked only to be given an envelope containing 20 random objects (ranging from a bullet to a paper clip).  This makes no sense to the furious Jennings who thinks he has been screwed over.  The situation immediately changes however when Jennings is brought in by the FBI for questioning and told a partner he worked with has been found murdered.  Exactly what is it Jennings did to put his life in such danger?

It’s enjoyable watching Affleck put the pieces of this puzzle together.  As I’ve hinted at, there’s a time travel element amongst this and Affleck’s action make you stop and think.  Unfortunately for us all, the screenplay slides away in the final half hour.  The intelligent Jennings is transformed into a James Bond rip-off.  He pulls out one miraculous escape after the other and eludes capture of the super villains who are intent to blow him up with big explosions and stuff.  I was a big fan of director John Woo’s Face/Off but his action stylings don’t fit here.  This is a thriller, not an action flick.

Not perfect but it’s a film worth keeping a little from your own pay cheque to see.