DAREDEVIL: Director’s Cut (2003)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 13 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence and Language

Daredevil poster

Directed by: Mark Steven Johnson

Written by: Mark Steven Johnson

(based on the graphic novel DAREDEVIL: THE MAN WITHOUT FEAR by Frank Miller)

Starring: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Colin Farrell, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jon Favreau & Joe Pantoliano

Once upon a time, DAREDEVIL was a good movie. That’s right! 2003’s DAREDEVIL has been the butt of many jokes since its disappointing release over a decade ago. The cut thrown into theaters was a mess. Audiences were forced to endure a plot that seemed half-heartedly stitched together, badly edited fight scenes, hollow characters and a clichéd romance. Turns out that DAREDEVIL was a victim of severe studio meddling and the Director’s Cut makes that more clear than ever. This original cut is the movie we should have received. With alternate scenes, an entire subplot reinserted into the film, less unbelievable romance, and far better action, the R-rated DAREDEVIL very much feels like a precursor to more serious superhero fare like Nolan’s BATMAN trilogy. In other words, this Director’s Cut was ahead of its time, but is well worth yours.

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Matt Murdock was blinded in a freak accident as a child, but gifted with superhuman abilities in his remaining senses. By day, he’s a lawyer working pro-bono for innocent clients in Hell’s Kitchen. By night, Murdock punishes the guilty who walk free as the masked vigilante called Daredevil. After taking on a particularly strange client and meeting the beautiful Elektra Natchios, Murdock finds himself drawn into a conspiracy that leads up to the Kingpin (a powerful mastermind behind most of the city’s crime). As Daredevil struggles to get to the truth, a dangerous assassin named Bullseye also makes his way to Hell’s Kitchen.

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It may sound stupid to phrase it like this, but the Director’s Cut of DAREDEVIL has an actual story! There’s a beginning, middle and an end. Things logically are built up, developed and play out in a way that makes sense. That wasn’t the case with the 2003 theatrical cut. An entire subplot, completely absent in the studio version, provides believable motivations and fleshes characters out. The plot isn’t revolutionary or entirely original, but it’s highly entertaining from start to finish.

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As far as casting goes, Ben Affleck is far more sympathetic as Murdock in the Director’s Cut of DAREDEVIL. Little touches are included that help make Daredevil into someone worth caring about as opposed to just another masked superhero. In a lot of ways, Daredevil is Marvel’s version of Batman and that’s a valid comparison in this take on the origin story (mirroring Frank Miller’s darker vision of the comics). Jennifer Garner is likable as Elektra and there isn’t forced chemistry between her and Affleck this time around. A hero is only as good as his villains. Colin Farrell delivers some of his lines as Bullseye in a distracting, snarling manner, while also being too over-the-top in places. However, he pretty much steals every scene he’s in. There’s also something to be said for his character delivering two of best fight scenes in the movie. Michael Clarke Duncan is well cast as Kingpin, but his character still remains underdeveloped (though he was ripe for a sequel that never happened).

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Another quality to be praised in this Director’s Cut is how edgy it feels. Almost every set and scene has a gritty atmosphere that combines popcorn superhero entertainment with just the right amount of darkness. The fight scenes are violent and well choreographed, unlike the edited-to-shreds action scenes in the studio version. However, not everything works. Besides Colin Farrell overacting as Bullseye, there are still out-of-place silly moments. A playground fight scene between Affleck and Garner remains totally intact and just as ridiculous as ever. There’s also predictability to things as this is an origin story, even if it happens to follow a unique hero. Joe Pantoliano’s reporter character feels like he was pulled straight out of Tim Burton’s BATMAN, even though he serves a purpose by the end of the film and could have been an important piece of a second installment.

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With 30 minutes edited back in, choppy studio scenes removed, and R rating firmly in tact, the Director’s Cut of DAREDEVIL is the movie that we should have originally received in theaters. Who knows? It could have been a huge financial success and earned better response from critics. In a perfect world, we might be swimming in an awesome DAREDEVIL trilogy. However, this Director’s Cut does the job just fine as a standalone superhero flick with dark sensibilities. Watch this Director’s Cut and pretend that the theatrical version doesn’t even exist.

Grade: B+

SIN CITY (2005)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 4 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Sustained Strong Stylized Violence, Nudity and Sexual Content including Dialogue

SinCity poster

Directed by: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino

Written by: Frank Miller

(based on the SIN CITY graphic novels by Frank Miller)

Starring: Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Rosario Dawson, Jessica Alba, Nick Stahl, Josh Hartnett, Powers Boothe, Michael Madsen, Jaime King, Elijah Wood, Rutger Hauer, Benicio Del Toro, Brittany Murphy & Michael Clarke Duncan

With the long-awaited sequel (almost a decade since the first movie) coming right around the corner, the urge hit me to rewatch SIN CITY. To be perfectly honest I haven’t seen this movie in five years, though it was a favorite of mine in high school that I viewed repeatedly. Frank Miller, graphic novelist behind 300, and Robert Rodriguez (along with a brief bit by Tarantino) brought to life the gritty crime stories of Frank Miller in a beautifully made film. This was one of the first films to be constructed in this kind of visual fashion that other movies would use further down the line (e.g. 300 for a good film and THE SPIRIT for a bad one). All the beautiful spectacle in the world cannot save a film that lacks in the writing department, but luckily Frank Miller’s stories are brought to life frame for frame. As in there wasn’t even a full writing credit on this film, because everything was right out of Miller’s books.

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For those who don’t know (a surprisingly large amount out there), SIN CITY is composed of four different crime stories that weave and intersect around each other. Think PULP FICTION loaded with even more over-the-top gratuitous violence that also packs a depressing and dark edge. The main thing I can see turning people off SIN CITY is how damned dark it is. However, some stories inject crazy humor into the mix and go into ridiculous territory that remind the viewer they’re essentially watching a live-action comic book. I’m going to tackle each story individually to address the pros and cons of all four tales, but the movie is absolutely gorgeous to behold. Extreme care and attention to detail was put into every frame to bring Frank Miller’s gritty city landscape to life and the sinful citizens inhabiting it. So without further ado, on to the four stories contained within 2005’s SIN CITY…

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THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT: Serving as an opener and closer to the film, these two brief segments welcome to the viewer to the nasty world of SIN CITY and bid them on their way right before cutting to credits. Josh Hartnett plays a character known only as The Salesman. He woos two different women and harbors a dark agenda. This story lasts under five minutes, but keeps a level of mystery around the Salesman character that makes you want to know more about him. This information is never given and never will be, but Josh Hartnett knocks it out of the park with his charismatic and foreboding performance. The opening bit also serves as a nice introduction to just what kind of tone the entire movie will have. A+

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THE HARD GOODBYE: If there’s a single story that I would point out as my least favorite in SIN CITY, it would be HARD GOODBYE. It’s not as if the story is terrible, because it is actually very creative. It follows Marv, a scarred and thuggish individual. He’s just had the time of his life with Goldie, the one hooker who has ever accepted his love. After waking up from a drunken stupor, Marv finds Goldie murdered in bed with him and he’s framed for the crime. Unfortunately for the corrupt cops and a powerful family, Marv is a lunatic who has no problem with hurting anyone who gets in his way or applying vicious torture techniques in order to get information. Mickey Rourke’s misshapen giant is a gentleman to ladies, but is more than a little eager to get his hands dirty on the male scum of Basin City (a.k.a. Sin City).

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The only flaw I find in HARD GOODBYE is how damned dark and mean-spirited the whole story is. It might seem silly to complain about brutality in a movie called SIN CITY. It’s also worth noting that this film originally received an NC-17 from the MPAA and had to go through some edits in order to secure an R rating. Most of these edits most likely come from HARD GOODBYE as it’s nightmarish at points. Elijah Wood pops in for a memorable role that doesn’t have a single line of dialogue. This story also has the most depressing ending of the bunch. It’s phenomenally made and vicious, but it’s also downright unpleasant at points. As well-made as this film is, I’m glad this story was fired early. A-

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THE BIG FAT KILL: Things go from depressing to really entertaining in this story involving gun-totting prostitutes, a hardened man named Dwight, and quite a lot of gangsters. After kicking his girlfriend’s abusive drunkard of an ex out of her apartment, Dwight is convinced that he’s up to no good and follows him into Old Town. This section of the city is full of hookers who will give you the night of your life if you follow the rules or be the death of you if you try any funny stuff. Murder, chaos, and a race against time to cover up a bad mistake ensues. I don’t want to say too much about this story, because some of the enjoyment comes from how wild things get and the unexpected turns the plot takes. BIG FAT KILL is a nice pick me up from the depressing previous story and packs a lot of absurd humor that makes it the most entertaining segment of the movie. I would even go as far as saying that this is my favorite tale of the four being told. A+

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THAT YELLOW BASTARD: The final story actually begins before HARD GOODBYE and then picks up after BIG FAT KILL. John Hartigan is one of the last honest cops in Sin City. They’re a rare breed, in case you can’t guess from the title nickname of Basin City. Hartigan has been on the trail of a pedophile/child-killer who happens to have powerful connections. John puts a few bullets in the psycho and saves an eight year-old girl named Nancy, but finds himself framed for the crimes. Eight years after being locked up, Hartigan is a free man and tries to protect Nancy from the now yellow-skinned psychopath who wants revenge. The plot of YELLOW BASTARD is predictable, but is very cool to watch unfold to say the least. This is the a more character driven story that is actually given a decent amount of time to make you care about John and Nancy. Sympathizing with them makes everything to come that much more gripping. One of the more grotesque deaths you’ll see in cinema occurs in this story and it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving character. Predictability aside, this story delivers on every level. A+

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SIN CITY works in visually capturing a comic book brought to life, but also has Frank Miller’s stellar writing behind it. Every single actor and actress, including usually less-than-great Jessica Alba, gave exactly what was needed of them in their characters. The biggest strength is that all four stories (despite how short they actually are) could fill a four separate movies worth of material and still be rock solid. Packing them all inside a barely over two hour long running time leaves no room to drag and captured my attention from frame one. There are lots of things to like in SIN CITY. The beautiful visuals are merely icing on the cake as the movie moves from emotional and cold to dark and grim to strangely funny and all around amazing. There was never anything quite like SIN CITY before it came along and even if this ten-year-delayed sequel doesn’t deliver on the promise of delivering more great material, then we’ll always have this perfect noir that stands as a cinematic landmark of sorts.

Grade: A+

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