Sometimes it is hard to separate the performer from the performance. Those like Tom Cruise or Russell Crowe’s off screen shenanigans can make it hard to take their on screen work seriously, even though they can be very good actors. Never is this truer than when it comes to Mel Gibson. His often outspoken nature really came back to bite him after all that Anti-Semitic episode back in 2004, and as a result his recognizable face has been notably absent from the Silver Screen ever since. In fact Gibson hasn’t headlined a film since 2002’s “Signs,” and because in Tinsel Town eight years is almost a life time it is understandable that “Edge of Darkness,” Gibson’s return to the limelight, was slated for a January release; call it a screen test for a once major player in Hollywood, to see if he still packs the power he did when he was at his zenith. But if Mel proves a box office draw once again all will be forgiven because, as we all know, if there is one thing that those Hollywood types love more than hating Anti-Semitism, it is money.
Another reason that Gibson might be given a pass now is the work he puts into “Edge of Darkness.” He plays Thomas Craven, a Boston Police Detective whose daughter, Emma, is gunned down right in of him. Though it might seem like a straight revenge picture Gibson, and director Martin Campbell, elevate the emotional stakes so that the movie is more like watching a man deal with the death of his daughter, than just a rage filled rampage.
However there is quite a bit of rage. Craven is initially told that the shotgun blast that killed his daughter (Bojana Novakovic) was meant for him. As he sifts through the guilt, trying to pick up the pieces of his life, sorting through Emma’s things he stumbles upon a larger conspiracy revolving around Northmoor, the defense contractor that she worked for. Northmoor is headed by Jack Bennett (the always smarmy Danny Huston) who, behind his paper thin sympathy, hides an evil bureaucrat that will do anything to protect his business. As Craven gets closer and closer to the truth the rage begins a slow boil, holding his composure until the inevitable explosion.
It is in that slow boil that Gibson shows his best work. As the film progresses Craven steps to the titular edge, only to pull himself back, which proves more and more difficult each time. Shifting from grief to anger then back to driven composure all in one scene demonstrates the man’s wide range. No matter one’s opinion of Gibson it is hard to deny he has talent
Another huge talent in this picture helping Mel get his street cred back is Martin Campbell. He captured the grit and brutal anger of James Bond in “Casino Royale,” and here draws those same characteristics from Thomas Craven. Having directed the original 1985 BBC Miniseries upon which the film is based _Campbell’s familiarity with the material may have given him a good starting point. Primarily a veteran of the Action genre directing “Mask of Zorro,” “Goldeneye,” and “No Escape,” the fight scenes and climax are well done, but also shocking because of the deliberate and solid pacing throughout. There is little violence, but Campbell makes sure that every gunshot, every punch has meaning, and even consequences, rare for a film of this kind.
A lot of the pathos of the film is inherent in the stellar script by William Monahan and Andrew Bovell. Structured somewhere between a revenge picture and a conspiracy story the film finds time to put a human face on the victims of clandestine government malfeasance, and the collateral damage their deaths wreak on the people around them. Behind the scenes baddy Moore (Denis O’Hare) refers to the survivors as loose ends, but to Monahan and Bovell they are the “America” which such questionable practices contend they are protecting. The moral complexity of the cost of freedom is illuminated through the character of Jedburg (a terrific Ray Winstone) who struggles with a belief in this country, and the actions sometimes taken in the name of the common good.
At a time when America is trying to claw it’s way back up the mountain of righteousness in terms of foreign policy this film adroitly examines the continuing role of our nuclear arsenal in relation to the global war on terror. Northmoor, and in particular Bennett, are the face of Capitalism run amok using the banner of patriotism to create exorbitant wealth, and our government’s complacency with their greed. It is no accident that in his final scene Bennett appears in a silk robe and gold chain looking like a corporate Scarface, a gangster with a stock portfolio and a Bentley.
Along with the political commentary the film is packed with strong performances, both in front of and behind the camera. All of these may help to put Mel Gibson back on the map despite many in the audience’s conflicting opinions on the man. Should he be held accountable for his sins of the past? Much like the Jedburgh most are of two minds about the subject, and unfortunately it is only a matter of opinion as to the right answer.
El Luchador Rating: 4 out of 5
Review By: Paul S. Myers (a.k.a. El Luchador)