Edge of Darkness

by | Jan 29th, 2010 | 9:41AM | Filed under: Theatrical Reviews

At last, the first new film of 2010 that does exactly what it sets out to do. Edge of Darkness may be Mel Gibson’s attempt to ride Taken's fatherly vengeance trend to a career comeback, but first and foremost it’s a solid serving of bloody conspiracies and entertaining thrills.

Edge_of_darkness_poster Edge of Darkness opens on a moonlit lake and right away you know this isn’t a nice romantic moonlit lake where you take your sweetie for stroll and a smooch. This is a Lake of Trouble. You know the kind—dark, still waters; deep secrets floating to the top; that sort of thing.

And sure enough, it is a Lake of Trouble—thank god! It’s only on screen for a minute at the start, but that good ol’ evil lake nicely sets the tone for the rest of Edge of Darkness, a taut combination of two great pulpy tastes: paternal vengeance and shadowy conspiracies.

Mel Gibson is Thomas Craven, a Boston police detective with all the trappings: decent family guy, rumpled trench coat, LP record player, old whiskey, deep lines in his granite face, bunched-up emotions, a nasally accent that doesn’t quite get there.

We see Craven welcome home his daughter–who’s living on her own, having started a big, new job–and we get just a few minutes of warm family banter and Craven the caring, easy-going father, before his daughter is brutally murdered in front of him by a drive-by shooting.

From there on, so long, genial, smiling Mel and hello, Dark Avenging Mel. We’ve seen Gibson in variations of this role before in films like Ransom and Payback, even Braveheart and Lethal Weapon: The guy who’s wound too tight, desperate and bereaved, angrily out to settle a score. But here, in the actor’s first starring role since 2002, we’re getting a new wrinkle, or rather several of them.

Edgeofdarknesspic4melThis Mad Mel is older, grayer, more drawn and haggard. He still barrels through the role shoulder first (the actor has never been much for subtle nuance), but rather than the fearless, what-the-hell heroes of his earlier career, Gibson’s Thomas Craven looks and moves like a guy playing out his last hand. It’s a weary sadness that works well for this relatively understated thriller.

Don’t worry, Edge of Darkness isn’t an introspective mope fest—it moves steadily along as Craven starts methodically tugging on questions about his daughter’s death and her life, including her job. Soon one of those shadowy conspiracies is unraveling, the kind where the scope keeps widening (business! government! national security!), sources keep brutally dying, and no one can be trusted. 

Gibson still has his signature emotional move: a somewhat stammering, squinting confusion as he sorts things out, then switching over to a slow burning steely glare as he charges forward. That’s always been Mel's appeal as an action actor: the guy who isn’t quite sure what’s going on, so he eventually decides to just punch or shoot someone. And whatever you may think about Gibson the person, there’s no denying the guy is an old-school Movie Star, the kind of rock-solid presence who can anchor well-crafted genre pulp like this. (And it doesn’t hurt that Edge of Darkness allows Gibson to wallow in two of the actor’s favorite pastimes: physical and emotional self-flagellation and murky governmental conspiracy theories.)

Edgeofdarknesspic6hustonSerbian-born actress Bojana Novakovic briefly plays Craven’s daughter, and she and the role are Edge of Darkness’s only major misstep: The actress isn’t strong enough to give us a deeper sense of who the daughter is or what her and her father mean to each other in the short time she has on-screen. So we don’t feel Craven’s pain as acutely as we’re meant to—throughout the rest of the film, we’re going more on the idea of the his horrible loss than the gut-punch emotion of it.

Luckily Edge of Darkness has bigger acting shoulders around to carry the weight. In addition to Gibson’s two-fisted driving force, there’s the always-unnerving Danny Huston who puts his oaken timbre to fine use as the head of the highly suspicious weapons manufacturing company Craven’s daughter was working for. Huston (recently seen in Wolverine) easily tosses off wild-eyed insanity dressed up in nicely tailored corporate poise.

And the great Ray Winstone (Sexy Beast, The Departed, Indy 4) swaggers his Cockney weight through the film’s back rooms as a mysterious cleaner, the kind of off-the-grid, black-ops guy bad people call when loose ends need tying up. Winstone’s seen-it-all whiskey sipping and fine-cigar puffing perfectly balances out Craven’s single-minded determination and Huston’s sickly sweet menace.

Edgeofdarknesspic12winstone All of this is nicely stirred by Martin Campbell, who directed the original 1985 BBC series from which Edge of Darkness is condensed. Campbell, whose 2006 Casino Royale so ably rebooted the Bond series, goes easy on the usual too-easy trappings of this sort of thriller–he delivers a somewhat restrained film that still shows off plenty of action tricks picked up from the Bond films. It doesn’t hurt that he's working from a fine-tuned script co-authored by William Monahan, the Boston-rooted writer of Scorsese's The Departed

Edge of Darkness isn’t a “must-see” film—it doesn’t transcend its vengeance formula or offer up much new or revitalizing to the genre. But it clips along with no major stumbles, making it a well-taken first step on Gibson’s career comeback and the first easily recommended theatrical entertainment of the new year.


13 Responses to “Edge of Darkness

  1. Kristin
    Posted on January 29, 2010 at 9:46 am

    I just commented on the other post about this movie that yes, regardless of Mel’s personal issues, I’ve always loved him as an actor. I’ll probably wait to see this one on DVD, but I definitely will be seeing it! I didn’t know about the director either, Casino Royale is probably one of the only Bond films I’ve really enjoyed, so that’s another bonus for this movie.

  2. Locke Peterseim
    Posted on January 29, 2010 at 9:55 am

    I think, from what I know based on news stories, that his personal issues are real and deep and troubling–for me, the anti-Semitism much more than the drinking and philandering.
    Separating an artist or actor’s personal life and beliefs from their work is always tricky business, and I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer for how to do it. (I say as I get ready to see Roman Polanski’s new film, The Ghost Writer, this afternoon).
    There’s no doubt an actor or director’s personal life DOES factor into their creative output–their creativity comes out of THEM and so you are going to see some of those issues on the screen. For example, Mel likes to beat himself up on film, and he has a penchant for story lines about complex, sometimes out-there conspiracy theories.
    But I’m not at a point where I would boycott a Gibson film based on what I hear (or suspect) he thinks. Nor am I ready to just ignore or dismiss the things he’s said, drunk or sober.
    So in the end, I’m saying this: Edge of Darkness is a nifty pulp thriller and some of that is thanks to Gibson. Whether his presence in it is a plus or minus, a draw or a deal-breaker based on his personal life and behavior, is going to be up to each individual who walks up to the ticket booth.

  3. Trevor L.
    Posted on January 29, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    I’m glad it’s getting good reviews, now I can go see it in peace.

  4. 64gb compact flash
    Posted on January 30, 2010 at 2:58 am

    This is easily one of the best films of Mel Gibson’s career and his performance is right on target.

  5. moviegoer123
    Posted on January 30, 2010 at 10:06 am

    My friend is planning to see this film next week so now I would have to tell her…there has been great reviews from the critics on this film so you should see this, I’ll probably tell her.
    My friend and I are so into Dear John but she wants to see this one first. My friend is a moviegoer for sure, she sees a couple films each month but she does wants to see Mel Gibson in Edge of Darkness and then see the hot hunk Channing Tatum in Dear John secondly.
    Well, I’ll tell her the good news on this film! Yipee!

  6. Jane Kasov
    Posted on January 31, 2010 at 11:55 am

    Why Northampton in the Pioneer Valley? Was Northmoor chosen to evoke the small mountain on the edge of the Pioneer Valley that contains an old, once-secret Federal installation inside it, for real? In location scouting, could this have been a rationale for an installation like Northmoor (though Northmoor ended up looking like astronomical observatory)? I wonder if context was inserted, then lopped in the editing. Northampton is colorful, famous for Smith College, Herrell’s ice cream, the lesbian-community-driven renascence of the town center with boutiques and eating places and a rich interaction of culture between town and gown. The Victorian building that was photographed is an actual government building. The movie spent a lot of time on views overlooking the Pioneer Valley and Connecticut River (presumably) but studiously avoided a real sense of place. The bodies floating in the river and other such scenes were not fictional moments, which one waited for (the ahas), and I believe the lack of fictional moments (or even just real frogs in this imaginary pond)killed the edge of “Edge of Darkness.”

  7. Florida Gal
    Posted on February 2, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    loved the movie. Where I live..the audience CHEERED Mel on more than ONCE.
    Danny Huston was very corporate and condescending.
    I think this is a MUST SEE for YOUNG folks (Late teens and Twenties)…and parents that love their children…and anyone with a “cause”.
    dark film. Well done.
    I love Mel Gibson and I don’t care about any recent news events. I go to films to be entertained…
    and this one was extremely entertaining. to me. But I like action adventure without all the alien farce.

  8. John Hashimoto
    Posted on February 2, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    I’m putting Mel Gibson aside on this one. I like him but I did see the original 1985 version with Joe Don Baker. It was riveting. The eerie music was Clapton and complimented it very well.

  9. moviegoer123
    Posted on February 2, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    No interest of seeing this.
    Dear John & Valentine’s Day I’m pumped up for!
    This film seems very dark to me but the plot\premise doesn’t interest me at all so at this time I’ll be waiting the rent for this & It’s Complicated.

  10. Lainy
    Posted on February 3, 2010 at 7:21 am

    Loved the movie!!! Cried alot, scared and had action. Our theatre also cheered for him. I totally agree with “Jane” listed above in everything she said also!

  11. Lainy
    Posted on February 3, 2010 at 7:23 am

    Sorry it wasn’t “JANE” it was “FLORIDA GAL” that I agree with

  12. Liv Starr
    Posted on February 3, 2010 at 9:13 am

    Great Storyline, Great Actors, but I didn’t feel as though it was played out in a great way. I guess I liked the movie, but still something bothered me about it. It dragged and that is for sure.

  13. Dasal
    Posted on February 3, 2010 at 9:13 am

    I thought Mel did a great job in his caracter. He showed exactly what one father would do if that was his daughter. I will have to wait until I get this one home to understand exactly what Ray Winston was saying. But overall, I think the movie was a hit. I would definitely recommend one to go see. All Mel’s films are great. He puts 110 percent of himself in every movie he does.