Edge of Darkness
Directed by Martin Campbell
Martin Campbell is best known for rebooting the dated James Bond franchise with the excellent Casino Royale. In that film the director brought an edgy, brutish quality to the character that up to that point had never been seen in a Bond film. The aesthetic matched perfectly and the end result was the rebirth of one of Hollywood’s most enduring franchises. On the other hand, Campbell’s first attempt at a Bond film resulted in the forgettable Goldeneye, a 007 film that like so many before it relied on gadgets and spectacle rather than character. Walking into Edge of Darkness, I wasn’t sure which director to expect, the gritty filmmaker who saw Bond as a tragic character study or the craftsman who made one of the more routine installments. The answer ultimately was neither.
Edge of Darkness is based on the television series of the same name, also directed by Martin Campbell. It was billed as a comeback vehicle of sorts, for actor Mel Gibson who has not been seen in front of the camera for eight years. I for one sort of missed him. The good news is he hasn’t changed much. Of course, Mel hasn’t been sitting around all this time, but rather making ultra-violent, dead-language historical epics that will one day hopefully bring the word “Gibsonian” into the lexicon of the popular cinema. His strange use of violence as shocking outburst brings to mind Sam Peckinpah without the social comment. This is evident particularly in his Apocalypto, which follows the carnage in final days of the Mayan Civilization. The violence in his films is never out of place, but always shocking in its excess. Keeping this in mind, I was cautiously optimistic about Edge of Darkness. Of course, Mel Gibson the filmmaker and Mel Gibson the actor are two horses of vastly different colours.
Edge of Darkness was promoted as a straight-forward revenge film that sees Gibson’s detective Thomas Craven seeking to inflict bodily harm on the men responsible for his daughter’s death. From there, it becomes more of a political thriller. In the end, the film really owes more to Alan J Pakula’s The Paralax View then it does to Michael Winner’s Death Wish, a ploy that simply complicates an already average story line. Rather than having Gibson bashing in skulls, we have him talking to shady individuals in an attempt to get to the bottom of a conspiracy that laid claim to his daughter’s death…and then bashing in their skulls.
Featuring a script co-written by William Monahan (The Departed), the film is another addition to the popular trend of crime stories set in Boston. To a certain extent, it seems as if Monahan was given an average script and told to spruce it up with some interesting character moments and sharp dialogue. He succeeds to a point. Much like The Departed, which obviously benefited from the direction of Martin Scorsese, Edge of Darkness features fairly surprising outbursts of graphic violence that could easily have been less excessive. I don’t point this out as a criticism so much as a compliment of sorts. Indeed, the violence makes the film seem like a throwback to action movies of the 1990’s, the decade in which Mel Gibson’s star was at its brightest.
Gibson himself gives an adequate performance as a bereaved father driven to the limits of obsession while dealing with the death of his daughter, but it’s really nothing we haven’t seen from him before. The supporting cast is just as adequate. Danny Huston does his usual turn as a businessman who is not all that he seems but the most interesting moments in Edge of Darkness belong to Ray Winstone as a world-weary assassin. These scenes between Gibson and Winstone show glimpses of a different film more rooted in character development and dialogue then cheap plot points. It is, of course, seeing this potential in an otherwise average film that really drives the mediocrity of Edge of Darkness home.
Martin Campbell never really seems to strike the right balance between political and revenge thriller. As a result, the film seems fairly uneven. Rather than presenting a classic story of a father seeking revenge, Edge of Darkness becomes more of a mystery that gets bogged down in sentimentality at points.
So it seems as if we’ll have to wait for Mel Gibson’s comeback as an actor. Perhaps Jody Foster’s The Beaver will offer something more enticing. Sure, Gibson is as good as he ever was, but he’s never had the ability as an actor to perform above the film he’s in. For now I’ll just anxiously await his next foray behind the camera.
– Nick Martin