A better title for Edge of Darkness would be Mel Gibson’s Return to Acting. Gibson’s performance is the showcase of Edge and almost everything else falls by the wayside. It’s almost a challenge to Gibson: we’re going to give you tone-deaf direction, a monotonous script, only one valuable supporting performance, and you have to convince people you can still lead a movie even though everyone thinks you’re a crazy anti-semite.
In all this haze, some may have forgotten one very important fact: the guy can act. He’s captivating, energetic, and he holds every frame of Edge of Darkness together (although Ray Winstone lends a valuable assist whenever he’s on screen). Without Gibson, the film could not succeed. With Gibson, it still doesn’t succeed, but at least it’s not painful. The way director Martin Campbell kills people in this movie-now that’s painful.
It’s every parent’s nightmare: you pick up your estranged daughter from the train station, everything seems fine, you get the door with your daughter standing right beside you, and then a dude in a black ski mask fire a shotgun at her and she flies 20 feet back inside the house minus most of her organs. Edge of Darkness wastes no time in cutting to the chase as Thomas Craven (Gibson) investigates who killed his daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic). We solve that mystery about twenty minutes later when Danny Huston shows his face in the role of the CEO at the shady Bond Villain-esque corporation where Emma worked. Danny Huston has a face that was genetically engineered to garner distrust. He looks like every powerful person you’ve ever hated. And even if you have no idea what Danny Huston looks like, you will look at his character and know the truth. Then there are 90 more minutes of movie.
From this point on, the film becomes maddeningly redundant. Craven follows lead, uses either charm or brute force to get the information he needs along with a bonus piece of info that will come in later, and that’s pretty much how the movie works until the end credits. It feels like the film wants to be a hard-boiled detective story, but it clashes so poorly with Campbell’s direction that the plodding script and plot-point supporting characters become depressingly transparent.
Edge is a genre-thriller that tries to blend mystery with vengeance. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do either very well. The mystery unfolds in the way we expect: the government and major companies are corrupt. They’re always corrupt. It’s reasonable for Thomas to want to know why his daughter was killed but he never discovers anything that forces to examine the perfect angel he has in his head. When it comes time for retribution, it’s laughable that Craven thinks he can win through sheer force. We laugh partially because we’ve become jaded as moviegoers but also because we live in a time where the government and big businesses get away with everything. Craven’s attempt to avenge his daughter’s murder doesn’t feel like wish-fulfillment as much as it does a naïve daydream.
The script’s flaws wouldn’t be so obvious if Campbell had embraced the grim reality of Thomas’ situation rather than shoot a flat, uninteresting world interspersed with clichés that cheapen Craven’s loss. When Thomas remembers the good times with Emma by seeing a ghost version of her or hearing her voice, it feels cornball instead of tragic. Instead of seeing Craven talk to a ghost version of his daughter, I would have preferred to hear only Craven’s side of the conversation; a private moment that we’re not entitled to. It would fit better with the character’s rough exterior and better internalize the emotional grief to match his outer rage. Campbell’s direction only really shines in the action beats but those are few and far between.
So it all comes down to Gibson. As much as I’ve enjoyed mocking his crazy racism (see Apocalypto) or anti-semitism, I’ve never slammed his acting. Signs is a ridiculous movie, but Gibson is amazing in it. I adore Maverick. There would be no Lethal Weapon franchise if he hadn’t been in the mix. He’s a magnetic actor and while we all wish that the people we admire on the screen would be admirable in real life, that’s not always the case. But his performance in Edge is a valuable reminder of his talent and that’s incredible when you consider he’s spent the last eight years as a figure of controversy rather than a leading man. But the role of Thomas Craven fits him like a glove. Then the glove punches a lot of people.
Edge of Darkness is torn apart by the incongruity between the script and the finished film. Its twists are always two steps behind the audience, the direction wants to be both gritty and exaggerated, and every plot point is to get Craven from A to B with no meaningful character arc along the way. Even Ray Winstone, who’s the next best thing in the movie after Gibson, feels shoehorned in and I would rather see a movie focusing on his clandestine activities than Gibson’s elementary investigation to discover an obvious conclusion. It’s easy to condemn Gibson’s personal behavior, but it’s difficult not to applaud his performance in Edge of Darkness.
Rating —– C