A film review by Craig J. Koban February 3, 2010


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

Warner Bros. presents a film directed by Martin Campbell / Written by William Monahan and Andrew Bovell, based on a TV series created by Troy Kennedy Martin

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 finest.  In 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. 

Even better?  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 melancholic.  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. 

EDGE 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 (not…normal).  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 much more.  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 thoroughly involved.  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 in 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.

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