Payback: Straight Up (1999)

Payback: Straight Up (1999), directed by Brian Helgeland.

"Straight Up: the Director's Cut". The theatrical and director's cut have different IMDB entries; you don't often see that.

How hard can a tough guy be and still earn our support? Nasty as he is, Porter has a code. As per the tradition, women are the ones who get through his armor.

I saw the theatrical release back when -- probably on cable or video tape -- and it did not leave much of an impression. Mel Gibson as a comical tough guy trying to extract a minor amount of money from the mob, finally reaching Kris Kristofferson as an improbable Mr Big.

The film had been processed with a bleach bypass step giving it a strong "black and white in blue" look. Most people responded with "Wait... they did it on purpose?"

I have so little memory of the original that I can't really compare it with the director's cut. The restored version is tougher and more violent, with Gibson beating up his junkie wife (it's actually a mutual destruction of their kitchen) and killing villains in cold blood. Kristofferson and the narration are gone and we have a completely different final act. The color is more natural, particularly in the interiors, with the Chicago exterior locations still looking blued up in a more standard way.

Gregg Henry is practically the co-star. Much as we hate the treacherous sadist, he is also funny and the narrative loses something after he is gone.

Lucy Liu and Maria Bello -- both playing prostitutes -- have had big careers since. The director described Bello as a "tough Philly girl" and asked her six times before she came on to the picture. She thought she wasn't right, but it is a good fit.

The new cut has a new score, very cool crime jazz.

John Boorman's Point Blank (1967) with Lee Marvin was based on the same book.

Available on Blu-ray with a commentary track by the director. He doesn't seem angry about being fired, understanding there were honest differences about reaching an audience: "So... he doesn't get the money, he dies, and you kill the dog?"

Is the director's cut the only version available on home video? That's a sort of gentle revenge. It was his project from the start.

Finally, on one of the making-of extras, when late in the film we see Bello loading wounded Gibson into the car, the dog is in the back seat with a bandage on its head. That's not in the movie itself, though.