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Director's cut gives new 'Daredevil' DVD an edge

February 10, 2005
By Franklin Harris

Judging from the other reviews I have read, my mixed assessment of "Daredevil" seems rather charitable. But things might have been different had Fox released director/writer Mark Steven Johnson's original cut of the film.

Now available on DVD, "Daredevil: The Director's Cut" restores 30 minutes of footage excised from the film's theatrical release. Some directors' cuts are just longer, but this director's cut is a vast improvement. What was a mediocre film is now pretty good.

The theatrical version can be summed up as boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets revenge on the bad guys who killed his girlfriend. Elektra, played by Jennifer Garner, gets almost as much attention as the title character. Johnson's original version, however, keeps the focus squarely on Daredevil, and gives his star, Ben Affleck, more room to breathe. Affleck can actually act, when given a chance, but the "Daredevil" that hit theaters leaves some of his best moments in the cutting room.

The basic plot, adapted from the Marvel comic book, is unchanged. Daredevil, who by daylight is attorney Matt Murdock, is the guardian of Hell's Kitchen, a crime-infested New York neighborhood. Although blinded as a child, Daredevil compensates with his other senses, all of which were heightened to superhuman sensitivity by the same nuclear waste that took his eyesight. His sense of hearing is so acute that it acts as a kind of radar, giving him a 360-degree field of vision. Daredevil may not be able to differentiate colors, but you can't sneak up on him in a fight, and he has the advantage in any dark alley.

As it happens, Daredevil needs every edge he can get. New York's top crime boss, the Kingpin, is moving into Daredevil's neighborhood.

The Kingpin is Wilson Fisk (Michael Clarke Duncan), a large man with larger ambitions and a Bronx attitude to back them up. When one of his partners, Nikolas Natchios (Erick Avari), says he wants out, Fisk manufactures evidence fingering Natchios as the Kingpin and hires the assassin Bullseye, played by an over-the-top Colin Farrell, to kill Natchios and his daughter, who just happens to be Elektra.

The director's cut has all this and more. It restores a subplot involving a drug addict (Coolio) who is framed for the murder of a prostitute who had been an informer for reporter Ben Urich (Joe Pantoliano), who is on the Kingpin story. With this subplot back where it belongs, we can now follow the trail that leads to unmasking Fisk as the Kingpin.

Better still, the new footage gives us more of Pantoliano and more of Jon Favreau as Matt's law partner, Foggy Nelson. And they have all of the best lines.

One memorable new scene has Foggy in court alone while Matt recuperates from doing his superhero thing the night before. Foggy, in desperation, looks through Matt's notes and finds, to his dismay, that they are, of course, in Braille.

Johnson's cut does leave out two scenes from the theatrical cut. The first is a scene in which Murdock goes to confession. His conversation with his parish priest (Derrick O'Connor) fills in some plot points that had been cut. The second scene is a PG-13 love scene between Affleck and Garner, which, because it is PG-13, adds nothing to the story, anyway.

The fight scenes are longer and bloodier (thus the director's cut's R rating), while other scenes play out more slowly. This "Daredevil," unlike the one that played in theaters, doesn't seem like an overly long music video.

I still have a quibble. No one has yet explained to me why Matt and Foggy, who are in private practice, are acting as prosecuting attorneys early in the film. (One explanation is that they are arguing a civil suit, but the defendant's dialogue indicates that isn't the case.) Leaving that aside, however, this is now a thoroughly enjoyable film.

The director's cut DVD is short on extras. It includes only an audio commentary with Johnson and producer Avi Arad and a short documentary, in which producer Gary Foster lamely attempts to justify the theatrical cut.

Rent "Daredevil: The Director's Cut," and you'll agree that Johnson has the better end of that argument.

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