Paycheck (film)

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Paycheck filmposter.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Woo
Produced by
Written byDean Georgaris
Based on"Paycheck"
by Philip K. Dick
Music byJohn Powell
CinematographyJeffrey L. Kimball
Edited byChristopher Rouse
Distributed by
Release date
  • December 25, 2003 (2003-12-25)
Running time
119 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$61 million
Box office$96 million

Paycheck is a 2003 American science fiction action film based on the short story of the same name by science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. The film was directed by John Woo and stars Ben Affleck, Uma Thurman and Aaron Eckhart. Paul Giamatti, Michael C. Hall, Joe Morton and Colm Feore also appear.


In the near future, Michael Jennings (Affleck) is a reverse engineer; he analyzes his clients' competitors' technology and recreates it, often adding improvements beyond the original specifications. To protect his clients' intellectual property and himself, Jennings, with the aid of his friend Shorty (Giamatti), undertakes a memory wipe to remove knowledge of his engineering.

Jennings is approached by his old college roommate, James Rethrick (Eckhart), the CEO of the successful Seattle technology company Allcom. Rethrick proposes a lengthy three-year reverse engineering job to Jennings, requiring him to live on Allcom's secured campus until its conclusion but rewarding him handsomely with company stock. Jennings agrees and, after arranging for his long-term absence, arrives at Allcom, turns in his personal possessions, and is given a brief tour of the facility where he meets and flirts with biologist Dr. Rachel Porter (Thurman), he is injected with a long-term memory marker for the post-job memory wipe.

Three years later, at the conclusion of his memory wipe, Jennings is sitting in Rethrick's office, being thanked for a successful job. On returning home, Jennings finds that, although his Allcom shares would have been worth around $92 million, he had signed them away near the end of his tenure. Furthermore, he finds that his personal possessions have been replaced with an envelope containing a random assortment of everyday items. Soon after, the FBI detains him, and Agent Dodge (Morton) accuses him of filing patent applications based on classified designs they suspect Rethrick purchased from physicist William Dekker, who was subsequently murdered.

Jennings is able to escape from custody, finding that items in the envelope can be used at the right time to evade capture. Meeting with Shorty, Jennings witnesses winning lottery numbers being announced that match a piece of paper among the items, and realises that he created a means of predicting the future, giving up the money so that he could pay attention to these items. Escaping another attempt to arrest him, Jennings finds items pointing him to a café meeting with Porter. Rethrick, who has been watching Jennings' movements, discovers a message to Porter about this meeting and sends a body double to take her place to try to recover the envelope; the real Porter shows up and helps Jennings escape from both the FBI and Rethrick's men.

The two take shelter at a local school, examining the remaining items in the envelope while Porter tries to convince Jennings of the relationship they shared during his tenure at Allcom. One of the stamps holds a microdot that, on enlargement, reveals several pictures of newspaper headlines taken from a machine's display: Allcom becoming financially successful with a device that can depict future events, but the world reacting to the catastrophic forecasts in ways that fulfill their outcomes, resulting in financial panic, political strife and America launching a pre-emptive nuclear strike. Jennings realizes he must have built this device based on Dekker's invention and, on realizing the horrors that will come, prepared the envelope, using the forecasts from the machine to allow his future self to return to Allcom and destroy the machine. Furthermore, as Rethrick discovers, Jennings rigged the device to malfunction, preventing Rethrick from anticipating Jennings' actions.

Jennings and Porter return to Allcom and make their way to the machine room detected but not interrupted, jamming the door behind them. Jennings determines the location of the defective circuit and removes it, subsequently rigging the machine to explode in a few minutes. Jennings uses the machine one last time, seeing a vision of himself being shot by an FBI agent in the catwalks above Porter's lab. Soon, Rethrick's men storm the room and, after a brief shootout, Jennings and Porter escape to the catwalks. Rethrick is waiting there, holding them at gunpoint, the same tableau from the machine; when Jennings' watch, taken from the envelope, beeps, Jennings ducks in time to avoid the FBI Agent's bullet that then kills Rethrick. The machine is destroyed, and Jennings and Porter escape in the chaos. Agent Dodge, surveying the destruction, shows sympathy for Jennings by reporting him killed in the explosion.

In the film's conclusion, Jennings, Porter, and Shorty have opened a greenhouse nursery. Jennings recalls a fortune cookie note from the envelope and discovers one last act he had done with the machine, foreseeing the results of a $90 million lottery and leaving the winning ticket in Porter's birdcage.


Additionally, model Krista Allen appears as The Projection in a 3D computer Michael developed.


The film features several of director Woo's trademarks, including two Mexican standoffs, the appearance of a dove, and a hollow birdcage similar to the opening tea house scene of Hard Boiled.


Critical response[edit]

Paycheck was met with mixed to average critical reception. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 27% based on 157 reviews, with an average rating of 4.7/10. The site's consensus states, "Though Dick's short story has an intriguing premise, Woo reduces it to a lot of meaningless chases, shoot-outs, and explosions."[1] Metacritic holds a score of 43/100 based on reviews from 34 critics.[2]

Scott Tobias of The A.V. Club gave the film a positive review, calling it a "smart thriller" and praising "Woo's wonderful sense of timing and rhythm."[3] Chris Barsanti of Film Threat also praised Paycheck, calling it "one of the more competent and reassuring action movies to come out for quite some time."[4]

Roger Ebert gave the film two stars (out of four), saying that he "enjoyed the movie" but felt that it "exploits [Philip K. Dick's story] for its action and plot potential, but never really develops it."[5] K. J. Doughton of Film Threat called the film "John Woo lite," and a "neutered variation on his earlier, superior works."[6] James Berardinelli gave the film one and a half stars out of four, calling it "a bad film, complete with lackluster acting, brainless writing, and uninspired direction."[7]


Ben Affleck won a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actor for his performance in Paycheck and two others - Gigli and Daredevil. After asking why he did not get his trophy, he was presented the Razzie live on Larry King Live a week later, and promptly broke it; the broken Razzie was sold on eBay for enough money to cover the hall rental for the following year's ceremonies. While hosting Saturday Night Live, Ben Affleck joked that he would have walked out of the premiere and asked for his money back until he realized he was in the movie.


  1. ^ "Paycheck". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved 2012-01-21.
  2. ^ "Paycheck". Metacritic. CBS.
  3. ^ Scott Tobias. "Review by Scott Tobias". The A.V. Club. The Onion.
  4. ^ "Review by Chris Barsanti". Film Threat.
  5. ^ Review by Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
  6. ^ Review by K. J. Doughton, Film Threat
  7. ^ Review by James Berardinelli, ReelViews

External links[edit]