DVD Release Date:  May 11, 2010
Theatrical Release Date:  January 29, 2010
Rating:  R (for strong bloody violence and language)
Genre:  Thriller
Run Time:  117 min.
Director:  Martin Campbell
Actors:  Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, Bojana Novakovic, Shawn Roberts, Jay O. Sanders, Denis O'Hare, Damian Young, Caterina Scorsone

Scott Brown's recent election may have shaken up the political landscape, but its effects on how Massachusetts is portrayed on film will take a while to change. The Massachusetts of Edge of Darkness, the new Mel Gibson film set in the state, is a place where "everything's illegal." The implication is that state and local politics have run amok in recent years, regulating all manner of personal behavior, and the blanket assertion gets a laugh each time it's mentioned.

But a few chuckles do not a good action/thriller make, and director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) knows it. So the film, which plods along for 90 minutes without much action, ends with a veritable flurry of spectacular, applause-inducing death scenes. The bad guys buy it in memorable fashion, sending home audiences who came for such carnage happy and content, the ponderous movie preceding those scenes notwithstanding. As for the legality of the protagonist's actions, well, best not to consider that. The filmmakers want you cheering, not thinking, as Gibson carries out his vengeance.

Gibson has been missing from theaters since 2004's Paparazzi, but he's been a steady presence in the news. His well-publicized drunk-driving arrest, alleged crude remarks to the arresting officer and subsequent extra-marital affair (including the fathering of a child with his mistress) has been tabloid fodder for years. Edge of Darkness marks his attempt at a comeback and returns Gibson to a role that's served him well in several earlier movies—the aggrieved, wronged individual who seeks payback against those who have hurt him.

This time Gibson plays Craven, a police officer whose beloved daughter (Bojana Novakovic) is gunned down right next to him. Craven spends the rest of the movie unraveling who did it and why. After ruling out himself as the target, Craven uses his police-officer privileges to turn over every rock and contact his daughters' acquaintances. There's the paranoid former boyfriend (Shawn Roberts), who tries to kill Craven the first time he visits; another woman (Caterina Scorsone)—even more paranoid—who agrees to pass crucial information to Craven, but only in an out-of-the-way place where she won't be seen (death is sure to follow); and a suave but creepy corporate head (Danny Huston), whose high-level connections belie his humble assertions about his company's activities.

Turning a business and its executives into villains isn't groundbreaking, but in the current anti-big business environment, it should crackle more than it does here. The film is a remake and condensing of a British TV series made a quarter of a century ago. William Monahan, who co-wrote the screenplay for Edge of Darkness, showed more spark in his screenplays for Body of Lies and The Departed, although both of those films were far from perfect.

Monahan's script for Edge of Darkness includes countless scenes of Gibson sitting and staring into space, or imagining the presence of his dead daughter. He hears her voice reassuring him. He converses with her. He sees her as a young child and as an older woman. We learn next to nothing from these visions, which grow quickly tiresome. We get it: He's grieving and misses his daughter. Does she really need to show up yet again, as Craven fights for his life in a hospital? Edge of Darkness is obsessed with death, but doesn't make much effort to delve into the impact of what happens after death, or how to cope effectively with the sudden loss of a loved one. That's not its interest, although you'd be forgiven for mistaking it as such, given the way the film falls back on these scenes over and over again.

The movie is also long on talk and short on action. Craven talks to his daughter before she's killed. He talks with his boss (Jay O. Sanders) about the investigation into her death. He talks to his daughter's fellow employees, to a mysterious goon (Ray Winstone) who can't bring himself to harm Craven, then finally to the CEO of the shady company that employed his daughter. Yes, bodies turn up and guns are occasionally fired, as the film suggests it's going somewhere deeply troubling and politically explosive. Instead, it coughs up the answers about the business' shady interests without providing any political or social relevance to the revelation. It's just a means to the end:  Getting the confession needed to confirm the badness of the villains so that we feel no remorse—nay, cold-blooded satisfaction—when they're iced.

So there you have it. Did you enjoy Gibson in Payback? In Ransom? He's on that level here. It's a decent comeback, if those movies are your idea of a good time. Edge of Darkness feels truncated rather than taut, sluggish rather than satisfying, and dull rather than edgy. It's also quite profane (as was Monahan's The Departed).

The only area in which the film delivers is its scenes of killing. Before you go see it, ask yourself if that is something you want to support.


Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at crosswalkchristian@verizon.net.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity:  Lord's name taken in vain, and tons of foul language; "f"-word used over and over again.

  • Smoking/Drinking/Drugs:  Cigar offered, declined, then smoked; drinking of hard liquor; pills are washed down with liquor.

  • Sex/Nudity:  Nude figures in wall art; Craven tells a man that he knows with certainty that the man wanted to have sex with his daughter, and adds that he's "not passing judgment" on that desire.

  • Violence/Crime:  Three bodies surface in a river; nosebleed and vomiting caused by poisoning; a woman is shot, and is shown bleeding and gasping for breath just before she dies; public urination by a police officer; guns are kept in the kitchen and in the drawer of a bedside table; a man's corpse is shown, with his eye blown out; a dead man has a bullet wound in his temple; punching and other fighting; a man is tasered; men are shot in the eye, chest and leg; a man bleeds from the neck.

  • Religion:  Craven imagines his daughter's presence and image several times.