Mel Gibson has made a career out of playing the man on the edge. He has done it in action comedies (Lethal Weapon), he has done it in post-apocalypse sci-fi (Mad Max), he has done it in action thrillers (Ransom), and some would say he's even done it in real life (his legal troubles from a few years ago). It is somewhat comforting therefore to see him return to the motif in his latest film which has just hit Blu-ray, Edge of Darkness.
Directed by Martin Campbell (GoldenEye, Casino Royale), Edge of Darkness is based on a British television miniseries of the same name (also directed by Campbell). In the film, Gibson plays Thomas Craven, a Boston Police detective. Craven raised his now adult daughter, Emma (Bojana Novakovic), alone, and although we are led to believe via home video footage that he did a great job, the two have ended up semi-estranged. Or, at the very least, they don't discuss personal matters with one another. At the start of the film, Craven picks up his daughter who is coming for a short visit. She is clearly ill and has some horrible secret she wants to tell him but can't seem to find the words for. It is at that moment when the audience instantly knows exactly where the film is headed.
Emma's illness rapidly progresses that first evening back at home, and as they two head out to find a doctor, she is brutally gunned down. The police, of course, think that the gunman meant to kill Craven, not his daughter (he is, after all, a police detective who has put away many an evildoer). Only Craven knows the truth… well, only Craven and the audience. In rifling through his daughter's effects, he comes across her work ID badge which identifies her as a "nuclear engineer" for a company called Northmoor.
Yes, it is essentially as easy as that – she was horribly ill before being shot and worked as a nuclear engineer. Lest you feel as though this reviewer is spoiling something, the discovery of the ID badge is made awfully early on in the film and it is shocking that it takes Craven as long to put together the pieces as he does.
Granted, Craven's task is made more difficult by the fact that this is one of those films where everyone, but everyone, is involved in the conspiracy. Some folks were part of it at the beginning, some are only brought in after Emma's death, but everyone is involved. Craven, of course, doesn't know this as he starts out, but the fact that it is a conspiracy means that he makes the absolute right decision in not telling any of his co-workers/police friends that it was Emma who was the target of the killing. At the time Craven makes that decision it is poorly motivated – an eye for an eye revenge is the sole reason – but it proves brilliant in hindsight. That is just one of the problems with the film – the only truly good reason Craven has for going it alone on the case is that it is a conspiracy, but he can't possibly have known that when he first decided to take the vigilante route.
The plot is murky at best, full of clichéd notions of corrupt politicians, black ops fixers, and corporations more interested in money than human beings. The film, however, manages to remain better than passable due to the vast majority of the performances. Gibson, as stated above, has made a career out of this type of loner character – perhaps that is why it is so acceptable that he opts to go it alone – and it truly is a pleasure after so many years of his not being on the big screen to see him return. Gibson is in top form in the film, he is dark and angry and yet his anger is entirely driven by his grief at being robbed of that which was most important to him. It is a very good performance in an otherwise dime-a-dozen film.
Many of Gibson's co-stars are equally good, most notably Ray Winstone as Jedburgh, a mysterious man who is tasked with whitewashing all the goings-on. Winstone's Jedburgh is world-weary and smart, a man who, despite sometimes doing the wrong thing does his best to proceed in the most forthright and honorable way he can. The one true disappointment in the cast is Danny Huston. Huston plays Jack Bennett, the head of Northmoor, and a man who, from the first moment he appears on the screen, before he even opens his mouth, is so clearly the bad guy, that the film's believability suffers massively when Craven doesn't torture Bennett into confessing immediately. Perhaps though the problem is that we as an audience are so far ahead of Craven at that point that we see what he cannot.