Monday, February 1, 2010


Mel Gibson delivers a devastating performance as a grief-stricken dad in “Casino Royale” director Martin Campbell’s remake of his own 1985 BBC mini-series “Edge of Darkness.” This revenge-themed rampage about a veteran Boston homicide detective who investigates the mysterious murder of his only daughter and the suspicious role that a shady corporation may have played in her death is far too gritty for its own good. No, “Edge of Darkness” (**1/2 OUT OF ****)is nothing like previous Gibson outings, such as either the charismatic “Lethal Weapon” franchise, “Conspiracy Theory” or “Payback.” Campbell and scenarists William Monahan of “The Departed” and Andrew Bovell of “Head On” alternate between Gibson’s investigation and surreal scenes between Gibson and his dead daughter that compare with similar scenes in the Peter Jackson movie “The Lovely Bones.” Meantime, Gibson remains appropriately grim-faced and humorless throughout this heavyweight but predictable 118-minute police procedural, political conspiracy thriller. Older, wiser, but every bit as lean and mean as he was in his “Mad Max” movies, our hero neither spouts witticisms nor has a twinkle in his eye. Basically, “Edge of Darkness” does not qualify as a big-dumb action opus with far-fetched stunts. The R-rated violence is brief, bloody, and brutal, something that will make the squeamish squirm. Mind you, it is fantastic to see Gibson back on the big screen after an eight-year hiatus, but this is not the kind of movie that you want to celebrate afterward with beer and pizza. The supporting cast, including Bojana Novakovic, Caterina Scorsone, Danny Huston, Jay O. Sanders, Peter Hermann , Ray Winstone, Shawn Roberts, and Tom Kemp, is commendable. Nevertheless, the tragic finale, the lackluster villains, and the shortage of enough surprises all undercut this suspenseful police thriller.

Veteran Boston homicide detective Thomas Craven (Mel Gibson of “What Women Want”) picks up his daughter, Emma (Bojana Novakovic of “Seven Pounds”), at the Boston Amtrak Station and drives her home. Along the way, Emma coughs up blood and starts bleeding from her nose. Once they reach the Craven residence, Emma gets worse, and Craven and she are heading out the door to the hospital when a masked gunman with a sawed-off shotgun gives Emma both barrels in the torso. The blast lifts Emma off the porch, catapults her backwards through the door, and sends her sprawling in a pool of blood down onto the living room floor. Before Craven has time to react, the killer has vanished into thin air. The news media believes the gunman had targeted Thomas, but instead accidentally killed his daughter. Initially, Thomas shares this mistaken assumption. Later, after he has sifted through his case files, our hero confesses that he has nobody mad enough at him to try and kill him. When he inventories his daughter’s things, he discovers a fully loaded automatic pistol registered to Emma’s boyfriend, Burnham (Shawn Roberts of “X-Men”), who is trying to keep a low profile, too. When Craven visits him, a very paranoid Burnham roughs him up and refuses to talk because he knows that he is under surveillance.

Eventually, Craven visits the North Moor Facility, where Emma worked on classified projects, and speaks to the Chief Operating Executive, Jack Bennett (Danny Huston of “The Aviator”), who expresses his condolences. An urbane Bennett assures Craven that the news of Emma’s demise not only shocked but also saddened everybody at work. Some forty-five minutes into this conspiracy thriller, Craven learns his daughter’s apartment has been ransacked and her computer stolen. He traces Emma’s cell phone calls, but everybody refuses to talk. One night an older man surprises Craven in his back yard. A cigar-smoking spook with an English accent and a District of Columbia driving license, Jedburgh (Ray Winstone of “Sahara”) explains that Emma had been tagged as a security threat to the United States. Craven is still mystified because his daughter told him nothing about her job. As the plot unfolds, our driven protagonist peels the layers off a metaphorically toxic onion and learns about a conspiracy that goes to the highest levels of government. Moreover, he finds himself tangling with gun-toting men in dark suits who cruise around in large SUVs with assault rifles in their arsenal. Before long our hero finds himself in a corner with nowhere to turn and the big guns coming after him.

The original version of “Edge of Darkness” appeared on the British Broadcasting Corporation in the United Kingdom as a television mini-series about young environmental activist, Emma Craven (Joanne Whalley of the television mini-series “Scarlett”), killed under mystifying circumstances. Her father Ronald Craven (Bob Peck of “Jurassic Park”) of the West Yorkshire constabulary launches an investigation into an isolated nuclear waste storage facility on the Yorkshire dales, runs afoul of a C.I.A. agent (Joe Don Baker of “GoldenEye”) and bad things ensue. Martin Campbell and his writers have altered Troy Kennedy Martin's original teleplay, changed the setting, scaled back the action from 314 minutes to 117 minutes, but everything is essentially the same. Unfortunately, aside from it being Mel Gibson’s comeback film, “Edge of Darkness” boasts a lot of edge and too much darkness. The film unravels during its last half-hour and not even a slam-bang shoot-out can salvage the convoluted plotting. Danny Huston heads up the villains, but they make little, if any impression. The scenes without Gibson lack vigor and add little to the action. “Edge of Darkness” joins a long list of political conspiracy thrillers where the omnipotent villains eliminate everybody until the final scene when an envelope with all the incriminating evidence falls into the hands of the media.

Director Martin Campbell and his talented crew, including lenser Phil Méheux and editor Stuart Baird, have done a fine job staging the action. The scene where a motorist sideswipes a female informant and Gibson's cop character blasts away at the driver after he speeds toward our hero is a dynamite scene. You will never see it coming and that is what makes Méheux's photography and Baird's editing so engrossing. Sadly, the plot muddles up and this amounts to little more than an above-average revenge thriller.

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