Thursday, January 28, 2010

Review: "Edge of Darkness"

"Edge of Darkness" is a strange, strange movie. Not a terrible one, though its good parts are scattered in a wilderness of discombobulated scenes and disjointed story elements.

Mel Gibson -- in his first starring role in eight years -- plays a familiar archetype, an old-school cop out for revenge after his child is kidnapped/murdered/raped. It's a forceful, effective performance; we believe Gibson as Craven, a Boston detective who becomes unhinged when his daughter Emma (Bojana Navakovic) is gunned down on the front steps of his house.

But unlike, say, last year's "Taken" with Liam Neeson in a similar movie, we never see Craven in any context other than revenge mode. He does not seem to exist as a person outside of roughing up suspects and hunting down clues.

We know he owns a nice house in Roslindale, because that's where the murder took place. Presumably he had a wife once, but she's never mentioned. Craven is a detective, and declines to take a leave of absence, but abandons his own duties (if he ever had any) to pursue his daughter's killers. No one in the chain of command ever questions why he's running around getting into knife fights and highway shoot-outs.

The investigation leads to the doorstep of a corporation called Northmoor, where his daughter worked, and then things really get weird.

In his interview with the Northmoor boss, Craven is immediately put off by the man's elusive answers and strange behavior. The boss is played by Danny Huston, who has been so typecast as the heavy that whenever he first appears onscreen in a film, the audience thinks to itself, "The villain has just arrived." Huston really should talk to his agent about doing a romantic comedy or something just to mix things up.

The strangeness deepens. Northmoor apparently is into some nasty business, with the government's tacit approval, and a spook named Jedburgh is dispatched to take care of things. Jedburgh (Ray Winstone) meets with Craven, talks to him, seems to like him -- while making it clear that he may be inclined to rub Craven out at some indeterminate point in the future.

Director Martin Campbell ("Casino Royale") and screenwriters William Monahan and Andrew Bovell based the film on an old British TV series that Campbell directed. Perhaps that explains the episodic flow of the action, with big events followed by weepy scenes where Craven imagines he's seeing his daughter, still a little girl.

The transitions are abrupt, and often arbitrary.

At one point Craven comes across a name associated with his daughter, goes to the man's house and starts beating the hell out of him. He stops hitting the guy, saying his daughter wouldn't approve, then remembers that she's dead and starts wailing away again.

The audience laughs, and our critical link to Craven's pain shatters in a moment of cheap humor. What's more, the guy he's beating up, who seems bewildered by this assault, then disappears with nary another reference to him.

For all we know, Craven had the wrong address and was pummeling a pharmacist.

As much as I was perplexed by the movie's strange fits, I was never bored by it. I enjoyed the running joke between Jedburgh and Craven that, "Everything's illegal in Massachusetts." Jedburgh, who for some reason is British, wryly suggests it's "payback for the Tea Party."

I doubt "Edge of Darkness" will herald Mel Gibson's return to stardom. He's still a convincing performer, in need of better material.

2 stars

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