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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Director's Cut (or: Apparently, You Can Kill the Dog)

I've been watching a lot of movies lately. Hewdig and the Angry Inch. Hot Fuzz. Shortbus (a John Cameron Mitchell double feature!). The Holy Mountain. And, oddly enough, Payback. Now I won't talk about Holy Mountain, there's a doctorate thesis in there somewhere, nor will I talk about Shortbus, because that's a very R-rated conversation and I like to pretend this is a family-friendly blog, but I would like to talk about Payback. Mostly because Payback, the monochromatic blue-tinged dark-humor noir that was seen in theaters in 1999 (and, if you're like me, repeated on HBO for months at a time a few years later), is very different from the new cut of Payback I just picked up.

What's different? Well, if 1999's Payback is a comedy-noir antihero action flick, 2007's Payback is an overly-serious hard-boiled grit-noir with little in the way of anything we haven't already seen in a million detective and revenge movies. The newly-released director's cut is darker (thematically), lighter (visually; so long blue-bleach washout), and looks and feels far more generic. But it's the director's film and it's good that it's out there ... right?

The original writer/director, Brian Helgelend, says that he could not, creatively, do anything different with his film when the Hollywood powers-that-be asked for a new ending. So he (willingly?) walked away, which left producer and star Mel Gibson (and, I presume, some others) to write a new ending and add a punchy and sarcastic voice over, all while substantially re-editing the entire film. The result is a far more palatable, funny, and engaging film that delivers the hard-boiled goods with some style and comedy. Helgelend's film, well ... it certainly deliverers the palatable funny engaging hard-boiled goods with style and comedy. Well, at least it's hard-boiled.

The director's cut is a humorless movie filled with people you don't like. Which is fine, no one's pretending to be a hero in the movie. But there isn't even an antihero, there's no one to root for or even care about, and the film simply becomes lost by the third act since you could give a shit about the characters, the story, and the outcome. Additionally, the look to the film, the "bleach bypass" that turned everything into a cool shade of blue, was part of the original package back when Helgelend was still in charge, and it went a long way toward making the film work. So it's a little disingenuous to have the director remove that blue tint in the director's cut, since it clearly was part of his plan years ago. The new cut now feels changed just for the hell of it, and you start to wonder how much of the director's vision was really worth seeing if he'd change something the worked so well just to be different.

Gibson, did he take control of the film? Yeah. Did he take the film from the writer/director? Kinda, yeah, but he's a producer and the star and that's his prerogative. The original film, with it's dust-dry, humorless tone and generic big-city setting, plays out like a Tracer Bullet comic (but with no punchlines). I'll keep the funny blue-hued original, thanks.

OK. Just had to get that out there. I know no one else on the planet cares about the differences between the two versions of Payback. Now you can ask me why I chose to write about Payback after seeing all those other, far more provocative, films. Well, the reason was I, oh look, outta room.

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