Edge of Darkness, Mel Gibson’s first starring role in eight years, has so much going for it on paper.
First there is Mel himself, who has starred in and directed some of the most iconic films of this generation. The director Martin Campbell has on his resume the very decent Casino Royale, which reinvigorated the sagging Bond franchise. The screenplay was written by William Monahan, who scribed The Departed, one of my personal favorites despite Jack’s occasional scenery chewing.
Costarring in Edge is Ray Winstone, who also costarred in The Departed. I first took notice of the blond, slightly chubby Englishman in the film Sexy Beast, which, if you haven’t seen, you are doing yourself a disservice. In that film he played a gentle, ex-con who had retired to Spain along with his wife and another couple from a life of crime in England, only to be found by a crime lord, embodied more so than played by Ben Kingsley, in one of the most ferocious films in which the great Sir Ben has ever lent his formidable acting ability.
Edge of Darkness takes place in Boston (and Gibson pulls off the accent just right; I can’t count how many films were destroyed by horrible renditions of Boston accents). Roughly, it is a revenge flick in the style of Death Wish and Death Sentence—only more complicated, needlessly complicated, says this reviewer, probably because the film is a remake of a BBC television series.
Seasoned homicide detective Thomas Craven (Gibson) spends most of the film searching for those responsible for the death of his only daughter, Emma (Bojana Novakovic). She dies slowly of deliberate poisoning after learning that the defense contractor for which she worked (they make raw materials, not weapons, dammit!) was earning a little extra on the side. But death by poison wasn’t fast enough for the bad guys, so they blow her away with a shotgun right in front of Craven. Not a good move on their part.
Craven himself ends up poisoned because of his efforts to track the killers. As his death slowly approaches, he pushes himself forward, uncovering a thick soup of secrets surrounding her murder, including corporate corruption combined with government collusion regarding the making of “untraceable” dirty weapons. What happened to the Mafia? Maybe it is me but corporate baddies just don’t get my juices flowing, but what can we expect in the Age of Enron? We’ll be watching films about evil companies for years, I bet.
Winstone plays a deep throat sort of character whose background is hidden in shadows. He shows up to point Mel in different directions. But does he really want to help Mel or kill him? Winstone is kind of wasted as a character for most of the film. I mean, really, what is he doing there, philosophizing with Mel in the quiet moments between occasional flares of violence, drumming up suspense that fizzles out as fast as it blooms, until he reaches his own moment of clarity near the conclusion? It involves a lot of gunfire and dead bodies.
What holds the story together of course is Mel, with his craggly façade, widow’s peak, thinning crown of hair, soulful eyes—combined with bone crushing strength and the ability to fire a weapon like the skilled detective his character is.
Once Craven figures it out it’s game over. No arrests, no handcuffs. For those of you who saw the great film Thief from 1980 starring Jimmy Caan you will have an idea. Mel becomes William Wallace with a gun. Not caring if he lives or dies he goes after those responsible for his daughter’s convoluted death, vomiting, bleeding, gasping from the poison in his body, he hunts a corporate honcho and a senator, facing each man’s formidable bodyguards in the process;
Bottom line: If you are a Gibson fan and like to see a lot of evil people get blown away out of the clear blue—the violence occurs shockingly suddenly, and the camera does not linger over it; it is there and gone—this film is for your. I found the back story concerning what led to the daughter’s death cumbersome and—well I already told you that.
It was good to see Mel back on the screen, but personally, I’d have rather watched Sexy Beast or The Departed again than viewed this one.