Edge of Darkness
- Directed by Martin Campbell
- Written by William Monahan and Andrew Bovell
- Starring: Mel Gibson
- Classification: 14A
Is Mel Gibson credible as a movie star? Judging by his new film, Edge of Darkness, the answer would be a qualified yes, as long as he keeps playing a guy who's righteously p-o'd.
Returning to a starring role for the first time in more than seven years, Gibson, looking a little more creased and craggy, offers a performance that might be called Gibson Classic. As grieving father and Boston police detective Tom Craven, he's a persuasively angry man. His tears look like they scald, his anger is feral, and as he progresses from near catatonic grief through a series of progressively violent confrontations to the final cathartic battle, he makes revenge look satisfying. In short, Mel's still got it, though it's up to this weekend's box-office receipts to determine whether audiences still want it.
After his last major acting role in Signs (2002), Gibson announced that he was tired of being a movie star. Since then his main output has been directing a pair of apocalyptic, blood-soaked movies - the controversial Christian blockbuster The Passion of the Christ, and the Mayan-set drama Apocalypto. The other major Gibson release was a 2006 police arrest report that revealed drunken anti-Semitic slurs that left a permanent stain on his nice-guy image. In retrospect, it's been all too easy to see Gibson's affinity for roles involving explosive rage, back to his breakthrough in Mad Max more than 30 years ago.
Edge of Darkness, directed by Martin Campbell ( Casino Royale), remakes an award-winning, Thatcher-era British miniseries that was written by Troy Kennedy Martin and directed by Campbell. At least through the first 40 minutes of the film, it's taut and grimly authentic. The cops look as rumpled and bulky as real cops, the corpses as milk-eyed and ashen as real corpses. (The one exception is the casting of two private security thugs who look like male models, symbolic, perhaps, of the handsome face of corporate deviltry.)
The plot begins straight out of the Death Wish playbook: Shortly after picking up his 24-year-old daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) from the train station, Tom brings her home for dinner. Emma, who has been working for a top-secret research company, is suddenly ill and he decides to rush her to a hospital. Just as they open the front door, a masked gunman calls out the name "Craven" and shoots Emma dead.
The police and media assume the shot was for Tom, related to some criminal he had put away. But tracking Emma's cellphone contacts, Tom follows a labyrinthine trail involving politicians, shadowy and official intelligence agents and an anti-nuke activist. The well-cast gang of rogues includes Danny Huston as the sinister head of a company doing dirty business under the umbrella of government protection, Denis O'Hare as a federal intelligence weasel, and Damian Young as an unctuous Republican senator. The best performance is from Ray Winstone as a droll, shadowy fixer who is prepared to enable Tom to pursue his mission for a while. (Winstone's role was originally intended for Robert De Niro's, but he quit the film, citing creative differences with the director.)
The dialogue is noticeably above par thanks to A-list screenwriters William Monahan ( The Departed) and Andrew Bovell ( Lantana). From them we get the Gibson line, "You'd better decide whether you're hanging on the cross or banging in the nails." Or Winstone's fatalistic observation: "We live a while, and then we die sooner than we planned."
Smart dialogue doesn't extend to the movie's structure - it grows more wobbly as it progresses, suffering, perhaps, from the weight of boiling a six-hour mini-series into a two-hour movie. The attempt to communicate Tom's precarious psychological state with hallucinations, flashbacks and dreams feels clumsy and, worse for a thriller, slows things down.
At other times, the film seems anxious to make up for lost time, churning through a jumble of scenes in which men in well-tailored suits talk in double-speak. This sets up an unintentional laugh late in the film, when Winstone's character, proposing a cover-up, explains that his job is "making things unintelligible" to the media and public.
The larger shell game here is that Edge of Darkness is offered as a political thriller, but with real-world politics removed. What we're left with is a familiar mechanism for delivering a vicarious, violent, wish-fulfilment fantasy, with Mel in a familiar position, in the driver's seat, pedal to the metal.