Not Quite “Edge” of Your Seat

Posted January 28, 2010 in Film

The past decade has been interesting for Mel Gibson. He starred in a blockbuster comedy (What Women Want) as well as a powerful smash thriller (Signs) before deciding to take a long break from in front of the camera. He then directed The Passion of the Christ, turning his high-risk self-financed, hyper-violent portrayal of Jesus’ torture and death by crucifixion into a smash hit that earned $600 million worldwide despite critics who claimed the film had anti-Semitic undertones that Gibson denied. 


Then in the midst of a long break from all things creative, Gibson’s personal life fell apart with a drunk-driving arrest in which he unleashed a blatantly anti-Semitic verbal tirade and an affair which ruined his 29-year marriage and resulted in an out-of-wedlock child that largely shattered his image as one of Hollywood’s most devoutly religious and moralistic members. After directing just one film since Passion (2006’s modest hit Apocalypto), Gibson decided he was finally ready to return to the big screen as a star. 


The question is: are audiences ready to embrace him in return? And does he still have the Midas touch for smash-hit action films? In the new film Edge of Darkness, Gibson returns to his benchmark persona—playing a by-the-book cop who suddenly opts to break all the rules while avenging the death of a loved one, this time his daughter. 


There are a few new twists in the Edge playbook, as the film takes a more nuanced approach than, say, the nonstop rock ’em, sock ’em action of his Lethal Weapon series. Based on an acclaimed BBC miniseries, Edge applies a more stately British tone and even manages to feel like a classic 1970s Cold War conspiracy thriller, with Gibson’s Thomas Craven discovering layer upon layer of corruption as he seeks her killer to get his tit-for-tat revenge. 


Craven’s daughter, 24-year-old Emma (played nicely if briefly by Bojana Novakovic) has agreed to visit him despite the fact their relationship is emotionally quite distant. She seems like she’s hiding something, and by the time they’re about to have dinner a couple hours after he’s picked her up, Emma has a nasty nosebleed and is coughing up blood in the kitchen sink. And the moment Craven opens the door to race her to a hospital, a drive-by shooter screams “Craven!” and knocks her dead with a shotgun blast. 


The goal had been to make it look like they accidentally shot her while really seeking to kill Craven, but the enraged and baffled father knows he’s a clean cop and there’s more to the story. He soon learns Emma had plenty of access to secrets in her job as a scientist with a nuclear contractor, and that she had a creepy boyfriend who’s ready to open a can of whup-ass on Thomas the very first time they meet. 


The boyfriend alerts Thomas that a whole lot more is going on than meets the eye, and sure enough, Craven finds himself battling cops, government agents, a senator and other assorted political figures in a plot that surprisingly takes a more lefty tone regarding the evils of nukes and corporations than one might expect from the normally die-hard conservative Gibson. 


Darkness is basically “get on with it” drama peppered with moments of intense violent shock, rather than the all-out constant tension of a Jack Bauer or Jason Bourne adventure. However, hardcore Gibson fans will be reassured to see that Mel can still propel a movie despite his eight-year acting absence and personal issues.


He convincingly takes us into the turmoil and mire of human emotion as Craven deals with the loss of a child, and keeps our attention riveted with a couple of witty remarks and a few good fight scenes, topped off by a pretty good Boston accent. There are few who could have played that weathered but angry man in a trench coat as well as Gibson, with his poignant facial expressions.


The plot can be convoluted at times, resulting in a couple of scenes in which bad guys get together to trade a ton of expository information. But when Gibson is the focus of a scene—thankfully, most of the time—his visceral but subtle performance, punctuated with stark outpourings of sadness, elevates the film to better-than-average status. As he punches, kicks, shoots and plows cars through each level of the corrupt figures who lurk everywhere, fans of Gibson’s brand of righteous action should find enough happening to be satisfied.


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