It’s a small movie af­ter all

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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.

And you thought

Pay­back was a bitch: Mel Gib­son

Don’t ever pull me over again: Mel Gib­son

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