It’s a small movie after all
Edge of Darkness, thriller, rated R, Regal Stadium 14, 1.5 chiles Mel Gibson hasn’t appeared in a leading role since 2002’s Signs, and if you follow the gossip columns, you know he’s been quite busy making an ass of himself (OK, and directing Apocalypto) in the meantime. It might seem that he’s shied from the spotlight to give the public time to forget about his drunken mishaps and anti-Semitic slurs, but in watching Edge of Darkness, I wondered if he actually took the time off to come back with a fresh start for the “older man” phase of his career.
He has certainly aged since the last time we saw him, albeit in that Hollywood action-hero way: the chiseled features, the hair that’s still slightly more pepper than salt, the physique of a justpast-his-prime middleweight boxer. He’s still a strong leading man and a fine actor, even if the action scenes leave him looking like he should be uttering Danny Glover’s well-known line as Gibson’s partner in Lethal Weapon: “I’m too old for this [stuff].”
Edge of Darkness finds Gibson playing Thomas Craven, a Boston cop whose daughter is gunned down on his front porch. The authorities think it was a failed hit on Thomas. Thomas suspects that it pertained to his daughter’s internship at a nuclear research and development firm. When he begins asking around, he notices that several people in his daughter’s life are terrified to say anything and claim that they’re being watched, but their fear doesn’t ever prevent them from spilling the beans to Thomas.
Soon enough, mysterious black vehicles start following Thomas. They trail him throughout his investigation as he checks in on the firm’s corporate headquarters, questions lawyers, fends off Fox News, receives cryptic tips from a mysterious Irishman (RayWinstone), and visits a U.S. senator (Damian Young). Along the way, witnesses are killed, he receives the smoking-gun
microfilm (on CD-R in this digital age), sees visions of his daughter as a young girl, and gets tangled in a conspiracy too large for him to fully understand.
Director Martin Campbell ( Casino Royale) adapted the film from his own 1985 BBC miniseries, with the help of screenwritersWilliam Monahan ( The Departed) and Andrew Bovell and cinematographer Phil Meheux. They are all talented craftsmen, and the movie is handsomely mounted and paced as perfectly as a fine-tuned stopwatch, though it’s recommended that you not examine the plot too closely for holes.
The major problem is that the story just doesn’t go anywhere that’s unpredictable. You’re well aware of the main conspirator’s identity from the outset, there are surprisingly few twists, and it’s just a matter of counting down the minutes until the big showdown. At the risk of spoiling anything, let’s just say that if you cast Danny Huston as the head of your fictional corporation, you’re tipping your hand. The character actor has played many villains and cads throughout his career, most recently in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and exudes a certain smarminess. If I’m hiring him to run my lemonade stand, then you can bet that we’ll be watering down the lemonade, overcharging for a glass, and possibly putting some poison in it. His father, director/actor John Huston, played dodgy businessman Noah Cross in Chinatown— these traits runs in the family.
But the movie I was reminded of the most was 1982’s The Verdict, another film that featured a big star (Paul Newman) in one of his first “older man” roles and was also about a Bostonian fighting an uphill battle against corporate corruption. Even though Edge of Darkness looks fantastic and features scenes in many Boston locales both well-known and obscure, The Verdict feels more like a “Boston movie” than this one does. It’s proof that there is more to capturing a location than photographing the landmarks and giving the actors exaggerated accents. The Verdict nails the rhythms of daily life there in a way that feels true and makes the city feel lived in.
Of course, much of that can be attributed to Newman’s lived-in performance. Another reason The Verdict is a much stronger movie is that Newman excels at making flawed men highly sympathetic. For all his talent, Gibson is an action hero in the Steve McQueen and Bruce Willis sense— his characters’ flaws tend to range from “too stubborn” to “too much of a loose cannon.” That’s fine if you’re trying to rally your Scottish tribesmen against the English or barrelling down an apocalyptic wasteland on a motorcycle, but a corporate thriller requires more nuance and demands that the protagonist sink into some dark places. Perhaps because Gibson is the star, Edge of Darkness plays more like a revenge flick than a thriller and predictably devolves into “go ahead, make my day” gunplay in the final reel.
I did have one more observation on Gibson: I don’t recall ever noticing how short he is before. Often, directors of blockbuster movies use tricks to obscure the fact that their leading men are rather short. That’s not the case here. Campbell cast tall men around Gibson and set the camera at angles that presented his costars as looming over him. It’s likely that Campbell meant to convey that Thomas is but one man involved in affairs way over his head. But it could be the start of a new, more humble phase in Gibson’s career. Exposed as something of a small man with his drunken tirades, perhaps he is simply embracing that in an attempt to play more wounded men.
Then again, maybe I’m sniffing out a conspiracy where there is none, and I’m the one who is out of his depth.
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