A film review by Craig J. Koban February 3, 2010
EDGE OF DARKNESS
2010, R, 105 mins.
2010, R, 105 mins.
Thomas: CravenMel Gibson / Jedburgh: Ray Winstone / Jack
Bennett: Danny Huston / Emma: Bojana Novakovic / Whitehouse: Jay
O. Sanders / Moore: Denis O'Hare
Too many have criticized Mel Gibson’s return to screen acting in EDGE OF DARKNESS as yet another example of him playing the same archetypal role that has made him a household name: the cold, calculating, slightly crazed, but ruthlessly determined avenger/anti-hero that works above the law.
But you know what?
He does this type of role better than just about anyone else, which
is what makes his first foray into acting in the last eight years (he last
appeared ion 2002’s SIGNS) such an unapologetic treat.
When he unleashes that furrowed brow, that icy, wide-eyed stare,
those flaring nostrils, and a blood boiling intensity that seems so caged
that it could blow up at any given moment, Gibson is at his charismatic
films as far ranging as THE
ROAD WARRIOR, LETHAL WEAPON, BRAVEHEART, RANSOM, and PAYBACK,
Gibson cultivated this persona with an eerie precision, which is why seeing
him once again become “Mad Mel” for EDGE OF DARKNESS is all the more
rousing and gratifying.
Gibson is not the prototypical leading man beefcake that adorned
magazine covers in decades past anymore.
This newer Gibson (the actor) is so much more satisfyingly
grizzled and intriguing: Yes, he has played ruthlessly hell bent protagonists in many a
revenge action thriller to bloodcurdling glee, but Gibson is older now,
still handsome and stalwart, but more wrinkled, more intense, and more
I think that this is why his role in EDGE OF DARKNESS feels both
familiar and fresh at the same time: he plays the well-known, semi-crazed,
will do whatever it takes because he has nothing to lose hero, but his age
and more worn-in appearance gives his character more edge.
He seems almost more chillingly lethal and intimidating as he
methodically stares down corporate villains in the film, and it’s that
added dimension of a world-weary soul that makes his character’s
hard-boiled rage all the more compelling.
That, and he still does it
better than just about anyone.
OF DARKNESS – aside from Gibson’s presence – is also in the grand
tradition of whistle-blower, paranoia-fuelled, revenge thrillers of yesteryear. The film has been
truncated from a 1985 BBC TV series that was broadcast in six 55-minute
episodes. The director of
that TV series, Martin Campbell, also has the tricky task of adapting
his own work here (he previously directed the greatest Bond film of the
last 30 years in CASINO ROYALE as
well as the very decent MASK OF ZORRO) and he is assisted by a screenplay
by William Monahan (who previously won an Oscar writing Martin
Scorsese’s THE DEPARTED).
Clearly, making a one-off film from a nearly six hour series seems
daunting, but Campbell and Monahan manage to forge a smashingly effective
crime caper that has elements of the best of the genre, like corrupt
politicians, greedy and duplicitous corporations, slick hitmen, conspiracies
galore, and one lone man that takes it upon himself to crack the case wide
open. Rounding that off is
Monahan’s aggressive voice, which can be felt all through the film.
He has a manner of infusing his personas with just the right tough
guy and edgy intonation, and his individual dialogue exchanges in the film
are stylish, vulgar, and sort of lyrical without drawing attention to
themselves. And “tough
guy” talk is not easy to pull off without it coming across as laughable,
but Monahan is a sharp mind when it comes to it.
Gibson plays Thomas
Craven, a lonely widowed Boston (make that “Baw-stin”) police office
that is about to meet up with his daughter, Emma (Bojana Novakovic).
Aside from his wife, Emma is the great love of his life, and he
often spends nights replaying old home movies of his experiences with her
while she was a young girl.
When she reveals that she is about to visit him, he is delighted to
no end, but their visit turns tragic very quickly: Right upon picking her
up at the airport she begins to display flu-like symptoms.
By the time she makes it back home to his place she is bleeding
profusely from the nose and vomiting up gooey black material
Realizing that she needs medical attention, Craven rushes her out of
the house only to be greeted by a masked gunman that shouts out
“Craven!” and then maliciously shoots Emma to death,
Craven - while dealing with his
intense grief and sadness - believes that she was unfortunately caught in
the crosshairs of a sniper that was meant for him.
However, as soon as he collects himself and begins to investigate the
particulars of her murder, he slowly discovers that it appears that she
was in fact the target, which only fuels his vengeance-filled blood that
The more he uncovers clues the more he learns about Emma’s life
outside of home at work and the type of dangerous things she was involved
with (I won’t spoil any of that for you, other than to say that she
suffered from radiation poisoning before she was gunned down).
His suspicions grow even worse when he meets her employer, Jack
Bennett (Danny Huston, who can play quiet spoken malevolence and men of
immediate mistrust better than any actor), who may or may not have had a
hand in his daughter demise.
While trying to untangle the messy political and corporate weave of
evidence, Craven is also confronted by a very shady and enigmatic
government operative Jedburgh (the terrifically understated Ray Winstone)
who gives him both practical advice as well as a few dire warnings about
the people and parties he’s trying to bring down.
Also compelling is the notion that, throughout most of the film,
both Craven and the audience don’t completely understand where
Jedburgh's loyalties lie.
One thing is for certain about
EDGE OF DARKNESS: Campbell is a terrifically skilled and poised action
director, who films moments of intrigue and testosterone-infused mayhem
with a clarity and precision (traits that far too many would-be action
directors lack altogether).
The finest scenes of tension and violence also carry a fierce,
audience-jolting intensity (especially in two key moments).
Campbell –with Monahan as his co-pilot – further do a very
exemplary job of fusing together the film’s interesting concoction of
tones: Part B-grade exploitation revenge flick, part paranoia-fuelled
political/corporate thriller, and part hard edged police procedural, EDGE
OF DARKNESS – even when you kind of shake your head at a few peculiar
plot developments – nonetheless grabs your attention and keeps you
That, and it does a really stylish and effective job of fostering a
real rooting interest in Gibson’s rancorous cop.
The performances, of course,
are key too: At first, hearing the Australian Gibson throw out that gruff,
tough, and thick Irish Bostonian accent is a bit distracting, but
concerns for that disappear very quickly because of the way he plays the
role’s slow-burn to absolutely fury with such an implacable gusto and
sincerity (he has proven that a near decade serving behind the camera and not
front of it has not diminished his movie star cred at all).
The two other main roles are also enticingly rich and gripping:
Danny Huston, as stated, can play well mannered and tailored political
villains with such a reptilian resolve (you instantly know, from seeing
this corporate baddie for the first time, that this guy is no good at all,
despite his façade as a congenial and consummate businessman).
Ray Winstone perhaps has the film’s most fascinatingly oblique
persona: is he good, bad, neutral, or a combination of all of them?
What Winstone does with such an authority is to craft this
assassin-philosopher character with a mysterious, sinister edge, but he is
not a figure of incivility.
He’s a gentleman in conversation, but an absolutely lethal killing
machine when the situation dictates it.
Despite limited screen time, he’s one of the most memorable and
intriguing facets of the film.
When he is on screen, your captivated and glued to it.
Not all of EDGE OF DARKNESS works: It telegraphs the loyalty of one character in the film far too easily (especially if you understand the basic movie convention that a persona that is introduced early and then never heard from again throughout most of the film is in on everything), not to mention Craven’s hallucinations that he has (which take the form of him talking to the image of his pint-sized daughter) don’t really manifest themselves smoothly into the story. And, sure, cramming hours upon hours of TV material into a two hour film cannot be done without some consequences to fans of the source material. Yet, EDGE OF DARKNESS is a proficiently directed, written and acted entertainment, and it lures you in early on and keeps your interest throughout. Quarterbacking it all is the steely-eyed tenacity of “Mad Mel,” who has been easily criticized for returning to the thespian well with his long-awaited return to screen acting, but his well is far from being dry.