Friday, January 29, 2010

Nasty, Brutish, Short, and Far Too Fun

Edge of Darkness is not by any stretch of the imagination an original film. It's a revenge film. About an angry father. Who faces an evil corporation. And kills a lot of people. All on a Boston-and-Berkshires backdrop. This film may not win any awards for screenplay, acting, or cinematography, but at least it's an enjoyable thrill ride.

The long-absent Mel Gibson plays Thomas Craven, a lonely Boston cop with a sole daughter, Emma (Bojana Novakovic). Craven lives by himself and is elated when the mysteriously-sick Emma comes to visit him. His daughter has something to tell her parent, but a masked thug with a shotgun interrupts her revelation. Craven, being a Mel Gibson character, begins to investigate the murder with the help of a mysterious British "security consultant" (Ray Winstone). Craven's journey brings him to the mysterious Northmoor Corporation, its chief Bennett (Danny Huston), and a slew of gunfights.

Gibson knows he has a lot to do in Edge of Darkness. Not only does he have to convince the audience he's still young enough to carry an action movie, he also has to make them forget some of his less-laudable off-screen behavior. I thought there were several moments in the script that alluded to Gibson's personal beliefs and habits, though perhaps I'm reading too much into innocuous bits of the film. Most significantly, one of Craven's fellow Boston cops says that he knows his colleague keeps liquor in his cabinet... but it's dusty. Later in the film, Winstone's character pours Craven a drink. The bereaved officer doesn't take a single sip. Gibson wants us to trust him again; he's gotten responsible on us. I found that I still like Mel Gibson. Others may have harsher judgments.

I get the impression that Edge of Darkness was a somewhat troubled production. The film is a remake of a British miniseries from the eighties, also directed by Martin Campbell. The original series apparently featured quite a lot of New Age-y mysticism, apparently quite well-integrated. Campbell's remake has dropped this aspect of the story; though Craven sometimes sees his daughter's spirit, there's no indication that his visions are at all supernatural. He's just a grieving man; the various visitations come across as awkwardly contrived to remind the audience that Craven is a very sad and broken man. Unlike what he did in the miniseries, Campbell doesn't work very hard to provide a supernatural framework, so Emma's posthumous presence fails to impress.

The opening scenes of Edge of Darkness are character studies; it's quite some time before the action scenes begin. Nevertheless, Edge of Darkness had reshoots to add more mayhem. I would have preferred more time spent building up the characters. At least two thrill scenes have very little to do with the plot; they're entertaining but gratuitous. Still, the action sequences are quite good. Campbell, director of Casino Royale and GoldenEye, never lets a shootout or car chase go on too long; he understands just how far one can push suspension of disbelief. As with Casino Royale – a far better film – the action is always well-choreographed and easy to follow. The violence in Edge of Darkness is as brutal as it is rapid. There are several extremely jarring acts of sudden violence, all quite gory. Blood gushes, heads bleed profusely, and Gibson keeps reloading.

The basic plot of Edge of Darkness is absurd; it's hard to fathom how the perfidious Northmoor Corporation, so cavalier with its killing, fails to eliminate Gibson's character. The individual action scenes, however, are all more or less plausible.

Though some portions of the movie seem excessive, the script does, from time to time, remind us of the costs of violence. Gibson's Craven is a broken man, of course, but we also learn some poignant facts about the Evil Corporation's victims. Edge of Darkness doesn't abstain from the revenge flick tradition of righteous sadism; when Craven (spoiler!) shoots the movie's villain, the camera lingers on the blood bubbling from the foe's neck. This movie, for all its occasional pretensions, hopes for a bloodthirsty audience.

Edge of Darkness was an enjoyable movie, and a few segments brought cheers and hurrahs from the small audience in the theater. Gibson's exit-line to the villain is particularly fine – nasty yet true moralizing. Would that the rest of Edge of Darkness were so good. This movie may be a generic artistic failure, but it's also a satisfying, if not memorable, crowd-pleaser. Campbell and Gibson can both do better – neither will count the Edge of Darkness remake as a highlight of his career – but they could do worse.

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