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Edge of Darkness

It’s No Mad Max, Just Mad Mel

Credit: Warner Brothers

Above: "Edge of Darkness"

As I film critic it’s not really my place to criticize Mel Gibson for all his off screen behavior and opinions. But I feel it’s well within my jurisdiction to take him to task for delivering yet another bad formula film with “Edge of Darkness” (opened January 29 throughout San Diego).

Borrowing in equal parts from Mel’s own “Ransom” and “Payback” as well as the recent and unexpectedly popular “Taken,” “Edge of Darkness” serves up a grim and rather lack luster revenge tale. Revenge tales are pretty damn simple and straightforward: give us a protagonist who is wronged and than let us take pleasure as he seeks revenge. Generally a revenge film hooks you quickly and keeps you riveted. It can be a roaring rampage of revenge like the “Kill Bill” films. It can be something a little slower and more methodical like “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “The Outlaw Josey Wales.” Or it can be something much more complex and troubling like Park Chan Wook’s Revenge Trilogy (“Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance,” “Oldboy,” “Lady Vengeance”). Gibson has even delivered his own kick-ass revenge tale with “Mad Max.”

“Edge of Darkness” begins with Thomas Craven (Mel Gibson), a Boston homicide detective, picking up his daughter Emily (Bojana Novakovic) from the airport. She arrives feeling a bit sick and as the evening progresses she becomes markedly worse. As Craven tries to take her to the hospital, masked gunmen stop them at the door, yell out the name “Craven,” and shoot. Emily is killed (that’s not really a spoiler). The cops think Craven was the target but soon Craven discovers that the target might have actually been his daughter who was working on some top-secret government program. Now Craven needs to find out not only that killed his daughter but why.

Part of the problem with this revenge story is that there isn’t really one person that Mel has to go after. There’s the government, a corporation, a masked killer that we can’t really enjoy chasing after, and then a couple of guys (namely a corporate dweeb played by Danny Huston). So the revenge isn’t sharply focused because the facts surrounding the murder are all kind of muddled.

The film is based on a BBC series that layered the tale with some more intriguing elements. In the British mini-series, Craven’s quest for revenge is also a quest to find out who his daughter was and there was a much more upfront message about the dangers of nuclear self-destruction. William Monahan and Andrew Bovell, the writers on the Hollywood remake, probably think they have devised a clever thriller. Monahan won acclaim for his work on “The Departed,” which was only impressive if you hadn’t seen the original Hong Kong Film, while Bovell did fine work on “Lantana.” But together they have fashioned a revenge thriller that’s strangely lacking in energy. It doesn’t seem to pick up steam till very late in the game and its attempt to create a complex plot fails. Things are complicated but only in a messy way and not in an intriguing and compelling manner. The nuclear aspect of the story seems more a gimmick than something that the writers are really concerned about as a political issue.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Warner Brothers

Ray Winstone and Mel Gibson in "Edge of Darkness"

The one good, successful element in the film is the character of Jedburgh played by Ray Winstone (who can be seen in his glory in “44 Inch Chest” at the Ken this week). In the BBC series, the character was American and CIA, and played by Joe Don Baker. Winstone makes his Jedburgh a literary quoting, philosophizing operative who follows his own rules. He’s the only thing in the film that was enjoyable and the least bit surprising. The only other I can praise is that the film is willing to go a little dark at the end – although it ruins that darkness with a silly little upbeat kicker as a finale.

Director Martin Campbell is a kind of studio director – he doesn’t have much personal flair or flash but he tends to get the job done. He excelled with films like “Casino Royale,” but here he just goes through the motions.

Gibson does his usual getting angry and making his veins pop. But that’s getting old. Plus in this film Gibson makes Craven’s close attachment to his daughter feel oddly perverse. There’s no mother/wife and Craven’s single dad is shown with his daughter in the bathroom, at the beach, and at the morgue where I feared he would embrace her naked body, and all the scenes feel borderline creepy.

“Edge of Darkness” (rated R for strong bloody violence and language) is unlikely to generate the box office interest that the sleeper “Taken" managed, and it’s unlikely to improve anyone’s opinion of Gibson. Give this one a pass and see Winstone in “44 Inch Chest” instead.

Companion viewing: “Taken,” “Oldboy,” “The China Syndrome,” “Winter Kills”

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