Government conspiracy, chase scenes and a whole lot of dead bodies…despite these facets of “Edge of Darkness”, it’s still a story about a father’s love. Mel Gibson returns for his first leading role since 2002, and the comeback, while occurring amidst a shallow film, is very layered.
Adapted from the 1985 BBC series, “Edge of Darkness” tells the age-old story about a cop pushed to the edge after the murder of his daughter. Boston detective Thomas Craven (Mel Gibson) starts his own investigation after he witnesses his daughter’s brutal death by shooting. He’s ready to follow the truth as far down the conspiracy rabbit hole as it goes. But in the meantime, he’s plagued by grief and continually has conversations with his late daughter, Emma (Bojana Novakovic). On the other side of the story, “consultant” Jedburgh (Ray Winstone) is hired by nuclear power company Northmoor, Emma’s former employer, to make sure Craven doesn’t find the truth.
The film is not awards caliber, but is nonetheless satisfying. Director Martin Campbell is quickly becoming an easy name to trust in Hollywood and with BBC films. He creates proficient action sequences with smooth flow and cohesive storylines—two traits far too quickly becoming a rare commodity at the box office. This is everything 2009’s “Taken” should’ve been, a gripping tail about one man’s fight for his daughter.
Campbell provides just enough nuance to make “Darkness” fall outside the spectrum of formula film. He doesn’t, however, hit quite the same homerun he did with “Casino Royale”, the film that gave James Bond more emotional range than seen in his usual cocktail-induced flirtatious.
In place of dynamic characters, we have Gibson and UK actor Winstone in an epic battle over who can speak with the deepest and scratchiest voice. Still, Winstone proves a welcome change from other cryptic characters who seem to know everything.
Accusations of anti-Semitism may have subsided but Gibson’s presence just might remind many of his troubles with the bottle. That said, he provides a stellar performance with a near seamless Boston accent. We have here a broken man filled with a balance of rage and grief, unable to function outside the thought that his life no longer has meaning without his family. It’s an old story told in a new and rather bloody way.
With characters like William Wallace, Mad Max and Martin Riggs to his credit, Gibson taps into a new set of rules for this gun-toting (or sword-wielding) vigilante ready to destroy all in his path. This is an older Lone Ranger with nothing left but his mission. Isolation drives “Darkness”. Craven and Jedburgh act alone. They live alone. They have no one left in their families. They are alone. This one’s not about teamwork but the price of seeking justice outside the law. There’s no moral support and even less reward for just conviction.
Don’t turn to “Darkness” for a story of depth. As the film title implies, revenge isn’t a joyous occasion. What’s more, the film fails to create a compelling justification for the actions of the characters. Got a problem with the government? Just threaten someone. You can try to encourage them to do the right thing, but they’ll probably just do nothing, forcing you to execute them. And let’s not forget how nuclear weapons remain the go-to for any domestic threat. Jack Bauer has been handling those enough on “24”, and it’s time for filmmakers to do a little more research. Seriously, just open a few newspapers.
“Edge of Darkness” marks a successful return for Mel Gibson and a strong performance by Ray Winstone, but hopefully Campbell won’t use so many tricks for his next project, “Green Lantern”.
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