As the release date approached for Edge of Darkness, I became increasingly curious as to how Mel Gibson would be received. Would he be welcomed back as a star? Would he be rejected due to the controversy that has swirled around him in recent years? Would people be indifferent and let the movie speak for itself?
The most logical response would be to let the movie speak for itself. Well, that should probably be the case for any movie. Mel Gibson is an interesting case, as he has not starred in a film since 2002's Signs and he is a part of the aging guard, alongside the likes of Bruce Willis and Sly Stallone. Sure, he is bit more multi-faceted, but the basic truth remains. So, how do you feel about the subject? Do you think Edge of Darkness shows Mel on top? Me? I say yes, surprisingly so.
Edge of Darkness is a new take on a BBC mini-series from 1985, which was also directed by Martin Campbell. The story centers on a man whose daughter is murdered in front of him, sparking an investigation that leads him into a web of dangerous corporations and cover-ups. It is a revenge story that contains a strong emotional quotient and plays out like a cross between Death Wish and The Constant Gardener. An odd pairing, to be certain, but the similarities are there. The end result is a film with moderately lofty ideas blended with a more intimate, populist appeal.
I went into the film with reservations induced by the trailer. Simply put, the trailer is awful. It shows some of the exciting moments, but it also tells the entire story. If you are interested in the film and have not seen the trailer, don't. If you have seen the trailer, do not let it dissuade you from giving the film a chance. While it gives things away, it does not really represent the film's quality.
The film opens ominously when a moonlit river's calm surface is disturbed by three bodies floating to the surface. The scene quickly shifts to Thomas Craven (Gibson) waiting at the train station for the arrival of his daughter, Emma (Bojana Novakovic). She arrives on time, and the two head back to his home. The reunion is short-lived as she falls ill. As they go to leave for the hospital, Emma is viciously gunned down on the doorstep by a bullet thought to be meant for him.
A police investigation ensues. They look into his old cases for potential enemies and scour the neighborhood for forensic evidence. Thomas, meanwhile, mounts his own investigation into Emma's death and uncovers much more than he bargained for. He is led to Northmoor, the secretive corporation that Emma was working for which apparently deals in illegal and traitorous projects in addition to a slate of American defense contracts. Since it's a corporation, it is inherently evil, compounded by the fact that it's run by the creepy yet courteous Jack Bennett (Danny Huston) from high in his tower office overlooking his property.
Thomas' investigation gains the attention of freelance "fixer" Jedburgh (Ray Winstone). This means the government is involved as well as those at Northmoor. Who knows how this will turn out. Even though Thomas always appears one step ahead of those he is looking for and those pursuing him, I do not believe even he knows how far it goes or what they will be willing to do to cover it up — whatever it is.
At one point Jedburgh explains that he is going to lead the cover-up in one direction to move attention away from what is really going on while simultaneously making it so confusing that anyone attempting to follow all of the pieces to their source would give up out of frustration. That is sort of the way I felt afterwards. I had no issues following Thomas Craven's arc, but when it came to what was being covered up and what was really being done, I am not so sure. But, that really is not the point. I am content just knowing something bad was going on and something bad happened. I am also sure that if I were to watch again the details would reveal themselves.
On another note, there is an interesting thought brought up a couple of times in the film, but is not given a lot of time to develop. The cops say that all of their resources are on the case due to an officer being involved. Craven retorts that everyone should get that treatment, implying there should be no room for special treatment if everyone was doing their jobs. It added a nice little undercurrent to his going out on his own.
Edge of Darkness is a thriller, but it is not a wall to wall action film. There is a lot of investigation and detective work performed as the pieces are revealed. This is not to say it is dull, it is far from that. It is an interesting investigation. What you want to look out far are the outbursts of action. When they happen, they hit hard and leave scars. It is a very effective structure. It actually reminds me of the way Lucio Fulci films are constructed, with long stretches of quiet punctuated by brief sequences of extreme violence or gore. This is nowhere near a horror film, but the structure is analogous.
What made this movie work for me primarily was Mel Gibson's performance. The man still knows how to command the screen and has a charismatic quality that makes you side with him. Beyond that, he is getting a bit older and his face is showing it. It turns out it may be a good thing, as he seems to carry a lot more emotion in his face without doing much. Throughout the film, he has the look of fierce determination but it is tempered by the sadness of profound loss. The weight of the world was there in the lines of his face. Yes, the role is a familiar one that is right up his performance alley in the first place, but that does not lessen the impact. Thomas Craven bought his ticket and took his ride for all that it was worth.
Martin Campbell's direction is also solid. The man may have a few stinkers in his filmography, but there is no denying he can put together a serviceable film. In this case, the final project is pretty solid. It is interesting, being his first major project since Casino Royale. It is not his finest directorial effort, but if there is one thing that can be said of him over his career, it's been steady. He always seems to be flying under the radar, while delivering mostly watchable films highlighted by moments of excellence. This one is definitely good.
Bottom line. Is this a classic? No, I don't see it written on the wall. It is a solid thriller that will hold your attention all the way through and with a central character that you'll feel for. I am not ashamed to admit that it got to me emotionally just a little bit, a testament to Gibson's ability to carry the emotional weight of a film. Definitely a solid film and much better than I had anticipated.