– Summary –
Director : Martin Campbell
Year Of Release : 2010
Principal Cast : Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, Bojana Novakovic, Jay O Sanders, Shawn Roberts.
Approx Running Time : 116 Minutes
Synopsis: Boston Detective Tom Craven witnesses his daughter gunned down on his own front porch, and sets about trying to find out why she was killed – her connection to a Massachusetts Nuclear Weapons facility convince him that corruption and political maneuvering have left gaping holes in the motivation for her death, and he seeks his own brand of vengeance upon those responsible.
What we think : Restrained, slow-burn thriller does the job well, yet remains defiantly resistant to modern Hollywood convention of the “revenge thriller” genre. Gibson’s stoic, composed performance, as well as Martin Campbell’s obvious passion for the story, ensure Edge Of Darkness is both fascinating and exciting – in a cerebral fashion – for anybody venturing beyond more cliched shoot-outs and car-chases.
Before you continue reading, and before I get too into the swing of things to remember to write this down, let’s make one thing perfectly clear. Fernby Films does not, nor ever will, condone any of the highly publicized actions one Mr Gibson took when dealing with Police Officers during a drunken traffic stop, nor with the events surrounding his split with that Russian Bride he had going there for a while – let it be known that this review is going to steer waaay clear of any of that stuff, so if you’re expecting a few pot-shots in Gibson’s direction in this article, you’re going to be disappointed. That said, it’s hard not to watch a film starring Mad Mel in the current post-career-meltdown atmosphere and avoid any kind of negative comments. In the interest of fairness to the rest of those responsible for Edge Of Darkness, I’m going to leave the tabloid gossip to the tabloids, and concentrate on the actual film we’re here to discus. Rant over.
Mel Gibson’s return to the big screen after his ongoing personal issues was always going to be controversial, to say the least. His last leading role was 2002’s Signs with M Night Shyamalan, and to say we’ve missed his charismatic persona on the screen is something of an understatement. Gibson always brings 110% to his roles, although some would say his more recent work was tending to become similar in characterization. With Edge of Darkness, helmed by Casino Royale and Goldeneye director Martin Campbell, I went into this expecting a fairly hard hitting action flick similar perhaps to Gibson’s vastly underrated (here in Australia at least) Payback. Edge Of Darkness, while definitely a thriller by the very definition, isn’t an action film, even if the promotional material you’ll find online would seem to indicate otherwise. Yes, it’s a hint of Ransom, a touch of Payback, and a bunch of Conspiracy Theory all mixed in together, but it does something none of those film managed to do for Mr Gibson: give him a humanity beyond the wild-eyed heavy breathing type we’ve seen so often from him. Campbell has trod well worn ground with this film, since he originally made it as a TV series for the BBC back in the 80’s. Turning it into a film might have been a catastrophic career path for the low-key director, but Campbell’s sure hand and restrained camerawork, as well as William Monoghan’s equally low-key script, make this a genuinely thought provoking piece of filmmaking, and a far cry from the histrionics of a Bond film or yet another Zorro update.
Boston police Detective Tom Craven (Gibson) picks his daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) up from the station and takes her home: she’s visiting from Massachusetts and she’s not entirely well. Before she can explain why she’s sick, an unknown gunman kills her as she’s about to go to the hospital. Craven, initially thinking the shooter intended to kill him for being a cop, soon discovers there’s more to her death than a simple shooting gone wrong – she was meant to be killed, and the motivations behind it lead him to Northmoor R&D facility, which is being used by the US government for some…. well, let’s just say their R&D has more to do with nuclear weaponry than nuclear power. The more he uncovers, the more he sets about seeking vengeance upon those responsible for his daughters death. A government “fixer”, Jedburgh (Ray Winstone) is sent in to cover up Emma’s murder, but his allegiance to the US and to Tom’s plight is unsure at best. Is he, as he has been ordered, going to kill Tom, or will his own imminent demise see him choosing the path to redemption?
I write this review having no knowledge or experience with Martin Campbell’s original television series, so comparisons between this film and that show will not occur here. If you’re expecting a blow by blow “they forgot this bit” and “they changed that” you’ll have to look elsewhere, chum. Edge Of Darkness, the film, isn’t what you’d expect from either Gibson or Campbell, in light of their most recent output. Gibson, since he appeared in Signs as mentioned at the top, has directed a number of films – Apocalypto and The Passion Of The Christ – while Martin Campbell has made a name for himself reinventing Bond for the modern age with Goldeneye, updating the Zorro legend with Mask of Zorro (and its substandard sequel) and re-reinventing Bond again for the digital age with Casino Royale, widely considered to be among the very best – if not the best – Bond films ever made. So to see Gibson and Campbell teaming up for Edge Of Darkness I was expecting, nay anticipating, a fairly high energy action flick with plenty of brutal violence and sense of righteous vengeance. After all, this is Gibson we’re on about here, and he’s made a career of playing the vengeance seeking cop (ex cop or otherwise) out to take down the baddies. Campbell’s no slouch with an action sequence either, so you’d think having these two on the same film would be manna from heaven. What the promotionals gave me, and what the film ended up being, seem to be poles apart, however. Edge Of Darkness isn’t your typical guns-a-blazin-cops-and-robbers action flick. It’s something a lot more enthralling.
Purely as a professional actor, and major Hollywood star, there’s no denying Gibson has the X factor needed for success in this industry. The camera loves him, and say what you like about him personally, you can’t really fault his ability to perform when the director says “action”. As Tom Craven, Gibson gives us a reserved portrayal of a man who loves his daughter, and is frustrated by the mountain of bureaucratic “it’s classified” that comes his way when he starts to turn over a few rocks in his investigation. However, in very un-typical Gibson fashion, he leaves the bug-eyed monster at home this time, allowing the script and the subtlety of the character to shine through, without being lost in the Gibsonisms we’ve seen before. The script, by Kingdom Of Heaven scribe William Monoghan, and Aussie Andrew Bovell (who co-scripted Strictly Ballroom, as well as writing Lantana and Blessed) is reserved without being overly melancholy, delivering a couple of genuine surprises amongst the subterfuge and detectivational work. And yes, I know it’s not a word. Deal with it. The point is, Edge Of Darkness drags us into the grimy, seedy underbelly of US political machinations, without resorting to too many cliches – not too many, I said. There’s a few, sure, but not enough to warrant a black mark against Campbell’s name.
Campbell keeps a lid on the potential for a lot of pointless action sequences – car chases never descend into illogical window smashing bullet ballet, nor do fistfights drag on endlessly with superhuman combatants slugging away indefinitely; here, if you’re shot you’re actually wounded, if you’re hit by a car you’re really hit by a car, and if you’re up against the wall staring down a government conspiracy, you’re screwed royally. There’s no overworked Hollywood falseness to the film, no hubris or artsy fartsy “look at me” filmmaking style – I expected as much from a director as solidly workmanlike as Campbell, whose journeyman mentality seems content to try new things each time out to bat. It’s simple, solid filmmaking. And I appreciated that. Edge of Darkness doesn’t pander down to the intellectually stunted audiences who lap up dreck like Scary Movie, nor does it try explaining each and every nuance of the narrative – it leaves enough mystery unexplained to give the viewer something to think about, yet resolves the story well enough for us to be satisfied with things by the time the credits roll.
Gibson aside, the cast are all rock solid in support. Ray Winstone garbles his way through his his portrayal of Jedburgh, a man whose intentions aren’t immediately clear, although his menacing persona adds weight to the story overall. Danny Huston brings the creepy as the Northmoor CEO with a hidden agenda, while Bojana Novakovic (known to Aussie audiences for her theater and film work here in projects such as Blackrock and Thunderstruck, as well as Hollywood scare flick Drag Me To Hell) is excellent in her short-lived (ha!) role as Gibson’s poor daughter. But it’s Gibson’s film, and he owns this stuff outright – he makes everybody else look positively second-rate by comparison, which is tough considering the caliber of talent he’s up with. He’s ably supported behind the camera with editing legend Stuart Baird (man, this guy’s worked some stuff – try The Omen, Superman – yes, that one – Lethal Weapon 1 & 2, Maverick, Casino Royale and The Last Boy Scout, among others, and he’s directed a few films as well!) ensuring the quietly assured style Campbell is aiming for with his lensing remains as impactful as possible. Howard Shore came on board to score the film after fellow Oscar winning composer John Corigliano (Best Original Score – The Red Violin, 1999) left the project late in the game, and Shore’s masterfully thematic flourishes here only serve to elevate the material, never overpower it.
If I had to sum up Edge Of Darkness in a single word, it would be “solid”. The style is redolent of a director sure of his methods, and totally involved with the story first and the visuals second, and with Gibson is career-returning form backed up by a solid script and deft production values, Edge Of Darkness is a surprisingly good thriller, even if it does sidestep the expectations it comes with. Is it worth a look? Yes, definitely. Is it enjoyable? Well, that depends on what you’re expecting, but if it’s a well written, solid little thriller in which Gibson delivers an affecting, emotional performance, then this is one for you.