Brian Helgeland (A Knight's Tale, L.A. Confidential screenwriter) & Mel Gibson's 1999 film Payback, is one of my favorite modern crime films, and the last Mel Gibson film (and performance) that I have any use for. I loved it in the theater, and it was, literally, the first DVD I bought; I brought it home with my first DVD player.
I've long been a fan of the "Parker" novels by Richard Stark (Donald E. Westlake), and Payback, which was based on the first "Parker" novel, The Hunter, was probably the closest Hollywood has ever come to capturing Stark's professional thief on film. Sure, Point Blank (1967, starring Lee Marvin and directed by John Booorman) is a bona fide film classic, and The Outfit (1973, with Robert Duvall, and directed by Jack Flynn) was a pretty solid 70's crime flick, but neither quite managed to evoke the distinctive feel of the "Parker" novels.
Let's not even discuss Slayground.
Payback didn't quite nail it either, but it came closest, and I loved it. I loved the casting, the 70's-esque music score, the gritty photography, and the "timelessness" of the flick. Helgeland made the choice to not show any cell phones, PCs, PDAs – no technology that would date the film any more specifically than "late 20th Century." Brilliant.
However, sometime after seeing the film in the theater, I read that the cut I had enjoyed was not that of director Helgeland's. According to reports, after he completed his version, someone – either the studio or Mel himself – decided that the movie did not represent the Mel Gibson that audiences had come to love, making him far too hardboiled and merciless, and with none of his trademark wry humor. (Never mind that it was also Mel's best film performance since the 80's.) This seemed likely to alienate Mel's huge fanbase, so, without Helgeland's input or cooperation (or approval, apparently), Gibson created new scenes and subplots (including the kidnapping of Kris Kristofferson's son, and the patented Gibson Torture Scene™), added more humor, and directed the new footage himself.* Some say as much as 30% of the final film was Gibson's work.
Well, to be fair, he did a pretty seamless job integrating his footage with Helgeland's. I couldn't tell. But it didn't seem to help the film's box office much. Despite the changes and the film's obvious high quality, it was considered a financial disappointment by the studio upon its release.
As I said, I love the movie as it stands, but ever since finding out about the behind-the-scenes turmoil and the existence of a different, more hardboiled cut, I've been dying to see it. Couldn't even dig up a bootleg.
Well, according to reports over on Ain't it Cool News, Brian Helgeland's director's cut, Payback: Straight Up, is supposed to be released on DVD early next year.
(*According to the not always reliable IMDB, the new footage was not directed by Mel, but by production designer John Myhre. Frankly, I don't buy it. It has Mels' fingerprints all over it.)