Edge of Darkness: Mel Gibson, Danny Huston, Ray Winstone (117 min.)
There is at least one thing that can be taken from Edge of Darkness, the new thriller from Casino Royale director Martin Campbell and Departed scribe William Monahan, and that is the fact that Mel Gibson – personal craziness and controversy aside – can still carry a movie. With thinning hair and age lines cutting through his face like wood carving, Gibson still knows how to convey sadness, remorse, anger and fury, all in his eyes. While the wisecracking days of Martin Riggs are well behind him, he can still take a sometimes thrilling, otherwise familiar story like Edge of Darkness and make it something worth seeing.
Gibson plays Boston Homicide Detective Tommy (of course) Craven, a widower who cherishes seeing his daughter, Emma, who at the opening of the film arrives home from her new job to the jittery, protective, loving arms of Tommy. Before they can even get home, Emma vomits on the side of the street, then again in the kitchen. And she has a curious nosebleed. As they are rushing from the house to the hospital, a masked man shouts “CRAVEN” before blowing Emma back through the front door with a furious shotgun blast. She is dead, and the police that arrive on the scene assume the blast was intended for Craven. But Craven suspects otherwise because of the nosebleeds and the vomiting, and a brief, panicked line Emma screams before they get to the porch. Withdrawn, cold, and inwardly angry, Craven begins investigating the life and work of his daughter and begins to uncover a plot that could be straight out of a 70s thriller like The Parallax View or The Manchurian Candidate.
Emma worked as an intern for Northmoor, a mysterious corporation nestled atop a hill in an excessive, ridiculous compund. The buildings, clearly CGI, are over the top and extravagant to the point of distraction, and given Northmoor’s line of business it doesn’t necessitate or explain such an eye-catching, curious façade. Tommy visits Northmoor and speaks to Jack Bennett, the creepy and slick CEO of the company, played by Danny Huston. Huston is perfect in the role, he seems robotic, and when he asks Tommy the cold question “what does it feel like” in reference to losing his daughter you almost assume he is asking “what does it feel like… to be human?”
As the investigation unfolds and Tommy gets deeper, a mysterious Brit named Jedburgh appears in his backyard. Jedburgh is a complete enigma. Who does he work for? We don’t know. Is he on Tommy’s side? Yes. Is he on the other side? Sure. Jedburgh, played by the always reliable Ray Winstone, works at times alongside Tommy, other times he is seen with Tommy’s opposition. And his real origin is never given, because it doesn’t really matter.
There are things that work in Edge of Darkness, starting with Mel Gibson. He doesn’t go too far with the Boston accent, which is a good idea, and his resolve and pent up anger live right behind those tears collecting in his eyes that will never fall. Huston is spot on as Bennett, and Winstone, whose part in the story could really not even exist, is appropriately mysterious. The story, as it builds, never lost me and kept me curious. As Tommy uncovers more facts, the thriller deepens, and the tension is kept at a solid level throughout. The final shot is a little hokey, but the climax leading up to it effective. I always enjoy political paranoia films, and the story here is along the lines of the great ones.
Things that don’t work in Edge of Darkness, aside from the Northmoor compound seemingly pulled from a comic book, are a few supporting performances and a curious narrative choice from Monahan and Campbell. Craven hunts down Emma’s twitchy, high-strung boyfriend, Burnham, played by someone named Shawn Roberts, and you cannot convince me he has ever acted before. His performance is so forced and just plain bad. Same goes for a young girl from Emma’s past, played by Caterina Scorsone. She cries and twitches as well, and her performance is just as bad. These are pivotal characters, we need convincing actors here.
Another thing that does not quite work are the interspersed shots of Craven seeing young Emma on park benches or beside him at the bathroom mirror, or speaking to him from beyond the grave. These scenes didn’t affect me, they just seemed strange and as if they were taken from another movie.
Edge of Darkness is a remake of a BBC miniseries Campbell directed in 1985, and his American film remake is strong if still flawed in a few areas. A few cat-and-mouse chase sequences and some shocking action keep the story moving. And, personal turmoil aside, it is nice to see Gibson back on the screen for whatever reason. I think starring on screen was what Gibson needed to try and get past his numerous scandals and problems in his personal life, and while it isnt his best, Edge of Darkness was a nice place to start.