Itís a solid, if not entirely successful, thriller, but it does prove that Gibson, all sexist and anti-Semitic garbage aside, is still an engaging actor and a credible lead for an action film.
Gibson plays Det. Thomas Craven, a Boston policeman who receives an unexpected visit from his daughter, Emma (Bojana Novakovic), who works as a nuclear engineer at a giant secret corporation called Northmoor. They try to catch up, but Emma becomes sick, and as the two run out the door to the hospital, a masked gunman yells, ďCraven!Ē and shoots Emma.
Everyone assumes that Tom, the policeman, was the target, but as he begins to investigate, he discovers that his daughter was involved in some shady business. He visits Northmoor and meets the companyís president, the oily Jack Bennett (Danny Huston). Northmoor has a giant, gleaming headquarters on a hill overlooking a river, and it comes complete with huge underground tunnels and missile silos. It looks like the company was expecting James Bond instead of Mel Gibson.
For his return to the screen, Gibson has selected a film that fits right in his wheelhouse. He has been starring in revenge- and grief-fueled films for his entire career, through Payback and Lethal Weapon all the way back to Mad Max. And here, Gibson proves he can still bring the righteous fury like few others.
After his sabbatical from the screen, Gibson looks considerably craggier here. Heís still a handsome fella, but in Edge of Darkness he wears his age on his face and in his movements. You can see the weight of his years pressing on him as he pours all the rage and intensity into Craven he can muster, and Gibson makes us buy into the depth of Cravenís grief.
Still, due to the nature of the plot, Craven canít just charge through the film, mowing down every bad guy he finds. He has to try to prove that the conspiracy his daughter uncovered is true. To that end, Craven proves to be a shrewd tactician, approaching each new encounter carefully. If a character needs to be sweet-talked, he does that. If bullets or a beating are in order, he can do that, too.
Itís interesting to see the film try to be both a Death Wish-style revengefest and a paranoid conspiracy thriller, and the two styles often complement each other, but at times they can grind against each other uneasily. We notice during these instances that, while both parts of the filmís plot are generally effective, neither gives us anything particularly new or unexpected. The fact that the film tries to do both almost distracts us from the fact that both halves are fairly by-the-numbers work.
The screenplay was written by William Monahan (The Departed) and Andrew Bovell (Lantana), though Monahanís voice seems to dominate the film, which has the same snappy dialogue and tough Boston attitude as The Departed. But this also means that the film is full of awful Boston accents, as if the actors think you have to turn in all your Rís when you cross the Massachusetts state line.
The script bears signs of being compressed from the well-regarded six-hour 1985 British mini-series on which this film is based, and some of Monahan and Bovellís emotional ploys fall flat. There are scenes, presumably attempts to make Craven more vulnerable, in which he hallucinates his dead daughter and we see him speaking to nothing. They are cloying and far less effective than the subtler evocations of grief the film sometimes uses, such as a scene in which Craven wipes his daughterís blood off his face, then regards the bloody towel and tenderly tucks it into a water glass.
The writers do occasionally manage to create interesting characters to play off Gibson. The terrific British actor Ray Winstone plays Darius Jedburgh, a government fixer who is called in whenever there are any particularly messy situations that need to be fixed. Winstone draws the audience in, making Jedburgh seem both thoroughly human and extremely dangerous. He strikes up an odd relationship of mutual respect with Craven, who is supposedly one of the loose ends heís supposed to tie up, and weíre never quite sure what his plans are.
Huston doesnít fare as well, however. The part recalls the role his father, John Huston, played in Chinatown as the head of a similarly huge conspiracy, but Danny is neither as suave nor as sinister as his old man. The actor is certainly appropriately reptilian (heís played lots of sleazy dirtbags before), but the script never gives him much of a character to play; instead, it just has two or three characters tell Gibson that Bennett is insane, and leaves it at that.
Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) directed both this film and the original miniseries, which starred Bob Peck as the grieving father. Campbell stages the filmís occasional action sequences quite well, but has trouble at times reconciling the two halves of the filmís plot into anything meaningful.
Edge of Darkness is all Gibsonís show, even if Winstone almost steals the film out from under him. The movie works as a solid entertainment, even if it never quite achieves the depth itís going for. But it proves that Gibson can still command the screen while using his old, familiar tricks. Perhaps the next time out he will challenge himself a bit.
Carey Norris writes about film for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.