Saturday, January 30, 2010

Review - Edge of Darkness

Whether he's taking a beating or dishing one out, Mel Gibson is an actor who's energised by violence. So, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that his first starring role in almost eight years is a film like Edge of Darkness, in which an ordinary man is driven to bloody vengeance, but we have every right to be disappointed. Edge of Darkness is not just a failure as a thriller, it's a failure as an adaptation of a TV series that was complex, imaginative and politically relevant – stripping away whatever nuance that series possessed and leaving behind a generic, familiar slog. It's hard to believe that the same man is behind both incarnations of Edge of Darkness, with Martin Campbell taking the reins once again 25 years on, and it's similarly hard to believe that Campbell was responsible for two of the best Bond films of recent years. His work here is perfunctory and careless.

Edge of Darkness also suffers from a basic conundrum – how do you compress six hours of storytelling into a two-hour framework? The overall arc of the story sticks closely to the original. Thomas Craven (Gibson) is a Boston cop enjoying a visit from his daughter (Bojana Novakovic) when she is gunned down by a masked assassin on his doorstep. The initial assumption is that Thomas was the target, but when the grieving father somehow gets himself assigned to the case and begins investigating his daughter's life, he discovers a darker truth. Emma was a low-level employee for a nuclear research facility, and it appears she was killed because she knew too much about their shady practices. Craven's continued probing soon uncovers a wide-ranging conspiracy, the kind concocted by corporate heads and government officials in clandestine meetings, and the kind we've seen depicted on film so many times before.

Everything about Edge of Darkness feels second-hand. The film's screenplay comes courtesy of William Monaghan, who brought such wit and liveliness to The Departed's convoluted narrative, but who opts for the obvious route at every turn here. From the clichéd nature of the characterisations to the hoary dialogue ("Who do you think you are?" "I'm the guy with nothing to lose!"), his script is utterly bereft of imagination. As soon as Craven begins digging into his daughter's life, the film's momentum stalls, and it never regains its footing. With Campbell directing on autopilot, it's left to the actors to try and bring a spark to the picture. Danny Huston gives a standard Danny Huston performance, grinning malevolently as the boss of the evil corporation as the centre of the plot, but the performance turned in by Ray Winstone is simply baffling. He plays Jedburgh, the mysterious government agent who materialises as and when he pleases, drinking a glass of wine and enjoying a cigar, while beginning most of his statements with lines like, "You know, Hemingway once said..." His parallel in the 1985 series, played by Joe Don Baker, was a stronger character and more active in the plot, whereas it's often hard to ascertain exactly what Winstone's motives or intentions are, or what purpose he serves.

As for Gibson – well, he still has a considerable screen presence, and there are times when he is the only thing keeping Edge of Darkness afloat. He's particularly effective when showing Craven's barely-contained grief at his daughter's death (and when he ditches his ill-advised attempt at a Boston accent), but the role hardly asks for much emotional depth, as the character quickly becomes another of Gibson's vengeful killing machines. The climactic bloodshed is ugly and often silly, but it is crucially lacking in any sense of weight or catharsis, mainly because it seems that Gibson – like the film – is simply going through the emotions. It's good to see Gibson back in front of the cameras, and he still has it within himself to pull out a performance when he wants to, but there's a weariness and sense of disinterest in his violent encounters here, suggesting that his days as an action lead may well be behind him. Perhaps Mel Gibson finally is too old for this shit.