Maybe it's time to forgive Mel Gibson. No, not for his tasteless intolerance toward Jews and women, or his unapologetic defense of those who would support theocracy and deny the Holocaust. Granted, those are pretty big sins to excuse, but he continues to pay (as only a recently divorced baby daddy of a Russian model's bratling can) in both his personal and professional life. God apparently has a sense of humor and wants to the one-time superstar to get back in front of the camera where he belongs (as long as it is not owned by someone working for TMZ, that is) - and his return to headlining, the effective if flawed thriller Edge of Darkness is a good place to start. It provides Gibson with a role he can truly sink his aging, perfectly capped teeth into, enough action to keep his 54 year old frame firing, and a good balance between emotional heft and fist-pumping punch-outs. While the rest of the movie can't match its lead, it really doesn't matter. Edge of Darkness is meant as a reintroduction, not a revelation, and on that level alone, it works well.
Veteran Boston policeman Thomas Craven is devastated when his daughter Emma is unceremoniously gunned down outside his suburban home. Believing that he was the intended target of the shooter, he begins an intense investigation. Just as things get started, however, the proposed killer is found - dead. Refusing to give up, Craven looks into his daughter's job with a government defense contractor named Northmoor. He checks in with his child's anxious boyfriend and has a one-on-one with the company's CEO. Before he knows it, he is being visited by a dapper hitman named Jedburgh, who warns him against digging any further. Yet Craven continues, uncovering a complicated plot involving the sale of technology to rogue nations, radiation, underground activists, and corporate espionage - and with a high profile Senator backing Northmoor and all its does, our distraught hero seems to be taking on the United States of America itself.
No one can kick-ass with as much acting authority as Mel Gibson. Even the human adrenal gland himself, Jason Statham, looks like a wuss when compared to the "Lethal Weapon" himself. Sadly, over the last few years, Gibson has given into the desire to be taken seriously, and as a result he's sucked away his special trait of beating the snot out of bad guys with convincing aplomb. Between What Women Want, Signs, and a supporting role in The Singing Detective, he's gone from champion to chump in a matter of movies. Perhaps this is why Edge of Darkness is so initially appealing. As the bereaved father with nothing to lose and a chip on his shoulder the size of a submachine gun, watching Mel get back to the business of being Mel is mesmerizing. It's like he drops an A-bomb in his psyche and lets it slowly simmer to a radioactive boiling point - and woe be the villain who violates his personal space. Once tripped, he goes off like a manic mushroom cloud, taking no prisoners and exacting his own brand of break bone justice. Sure, the script tries to give him a softer side, a means of looking less like loon and more like an everyday cop on the verge. But once fist meets face, or armory meets artery, Gibson ain't f*ckin' around - and we love every blood-spattered minute of the mayhem.
Sadly, director Martin Campbell doesn't stick with what works. Since the movie is based on a UK mini-series, he sees the need to add narrative contrivances that just don't function in a fiery bit of parental vigilantism. For example, Gibson's character frequently hallucinates, seeing his daughter in various imagined stages of maturity. From half-remembered conversations to moments of father/child fun, these memories upend the sense of urgency and suspense being created by the plot. Just as things build to a full head of cinematic steam, Gibson has another strange interlude and everything dries up. Similarly, Ray Winstone is cast as a hitman/corporate "cleaner" with a secret...and a conscience...and an affinity for fine food and drink...and any number of additional cartoon proclivities. His presence is supposed to unnerve and undermine Gibson, but he spends so much time acting as expositional support for our hero that he loses all menace. Then we learn of the potential motive behind the nice guy act and we feel manipulated all over again. Many of the supporting players get little help from Campbell. He clearly sees Gibson as the crux to Edge of Darkness's success, and as long as he gives the actor room to roar, he's fine.
The actual mystery also sucks. It's so ambiguous and unclear that it might as well be some convoluted gobbledygook about an international scheme to keep Lady GaGa famous. We know it has something to do with nukes, dirty bombs, rogue homeland terrorists, manipulative activists, twitchy friends, and some dork living in squalor. Aside from that, it's up to Danny Huston to provide the requisite hissable villainy. He does, but just barely. In fact, the whole reason Gibson is going gonzo loses steam after a while. A dead daughter is quite a way to start off a violent, vendetta-laced thriller. But once we've seen a few examples of bitch-slap payback, we need a little more. What we get are dream-drone flashbacks, cloying cutesy memories, and a tragedy tempered by one too many threadbare subplots. We expect better from a screenplay crafted, in part, by Oscar owner William Monahan and yet Edge of Darkness can't help but feel redundant. It's not like this story is new and hasn't been done a couple dozen times, nor does the industrial espionage government froufrou floating around give it an air of legitimacy. As long as it serves Gibson and his gratuitous way with a firearm, we buy it. Go any deeper and the defects clearly show through.
Director Martin Campbell delivers a highly polished and frequently stylized mainstream thriller, and the Blu-ray presentation offered by Warner Brothers is top notch. The 2.40:1 1080p image is sharp, crisp, and filled with details. The night scenes offer limited grain, while the close-ups reveal every line and crevice in Gibson's aging façade. Yes, there are times when the filmmaking - not the technology - undermines the visuals. Campbell's compositions can be erratic and the editing often jumps into scenes instead making a smooth transition. Still, the colors are bright and clear, with a deep distinction between light and dark. For a high profile general release, such a smooth high definition dynamic is to be expected. While not really reference quality, it does do the format justice.
Loaded with action scenes and intense moments of suspense, the aural aspects of this Blu-ray release are equally impressive. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is amazing, directional and providing lots of immersive and ambient space. Gibson spends a lot of time in self-reflection, and the mix offers a real sense of intimacy and closeness. Once the pedal is to the metal, however, the speakers explode with lots of channel challenging bombast. Yet even in the quieter moments, in conversations and memories, the sonic situation here stands out. The score, by Howard Shore, is modulated expertly, bringing a necessary sense of exigency and drama to the narrative. Overall, the tech specs here are superb.
Offering something called "Focus-Point" Featurettes, the Blu-ray provides looks at how Gibson was cast, the various locational issues, the original Edge of Darkness mini-series, and a profile of director Campbell among the nine offerings. There is also a collection of unnecessary deleted and/or added scenes which bring nothing new or novel to the film. As with most Blu-ray releases, there is also a digital copy of the film on a separate disc. Unlike most studios, however, Warners adds a DVD presentation of the film as well.
The satisfaction of seeing Mel Gibson back doing what he does very well indeed makes Edge of Darkness an easy movie to champion. While it's not a classic, it does contain enough vintage star power and cinematic machismo to warrant a rating of Recommended. It's just too bad that director Martin Campbell decided to screw things up with all the flowery bits of emotional remembering. Imagine Mad Max taking a moment to reflect on his fallen family, the wispy visuals like a hokey Hallmark card, right in the middle of a major face-off with Lord Humungus and Wez, and you get the idea. Edge of Darkness really didn't need all the false endings and introspective asides. It has Master Mel with those piercing, psychotic eyes ready to rewrite the rulebook with his fists and his wits - and nothing is more appropriate...or outwardly entertaining.
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