January 29, 2010 in Features

Mel Gibson returns to form in ‘Darkness’

Tom Horgen (Minneapolis) Star Tribune
 
Warner Bros. photo

Mel Gibson is shown in a scene from “Edge of Darkness.” Warner Bros.
(Full-size photo)

The critics’ take

What other reviewers are saying about “Edge of Darkness”:

“Director Martin Campbell (“Casino Royale”) has a hard time getting this generic who-done-it off the ground as the script weaves in more and more layers of conspiracy.” – Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel

“Gibson still knows what he does best, as a star should, and creates just tension from never letting the tears poised in his eyes fall.” – Nick Pinkerton, Village Voice

“Gibson seems disengaged, distracted and a little spacey, like a guy with voices in his head who tries hard to pretend he doesn’t hear them.” – Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald

“Some might reasonably swear off films with Gibson, but there aren’t a lot of actors making movies that try to bring urgent, contemporary rage to popcorn movies.” – Jake Coyle, Associated Press

After torturing Jesus to death and subjecting Mayan tribesman to gruesome human sacrifice, what could possibly be next for Mel Gibson?

For the enigmatic filmmaker, who last directed “The Passion of the Christ” (2004) and “Apocalypto” (2006), it’s a return to acting and a new target for his violent compulsions.

But who would have thought he would aim his scourge at the corrupt arena of government-contracted weapons manufacturers? (Lockheed Martin, you’re going down!)

More than most Hollywood stars, Gibson’s career has been defined by film violence (“Braveheart,” “We Were Soldiers”). That insatiable appetite for bloody recourse continues with “Edge of Darkness,” in which Gibson plays a Boston homicide detective out to solve the murder of his activist daughter.

Gibson has relinquished the directing chair this time to Martin Campbell, who was last seen pumping new life – and a bit of steely violence – into the James Bond franchise with “Casino Royale.”

“Edge of Darkness” begins ominously: Three bloated bodies bob to the surface of a pitch-black Connecticut River. It then cuts to Det. Tom Craven (Gibson) and his daughter, Emma, who’s recently come back into his life.

He’s unsure of where she’s been – partly because he’s a bad father, but mostly because she works at a top-secret weapons lab.

As they walk out the front door of his house, a masked man fires a shotgun blast that opens a gaping hole in Emma’s stomach, sending her crashing to the floor.

For the next two hours, Gibson portrays Craven as the vengeful dad, growling his way to justice as he unravels the mystery of who killed Emma.

At 54, Gibson looks old. Wrinkles cover his cheeks, while specks of grey twinkle in his dark puff of hair. Does he have the killing urge left in him?

You bet. Emma was going to turn whistleblower on Northmoor, a private security firm and weapons maker (think Lockheed Martin crossed with Blackwater) located in a fortresslike compound overlooking the Connecticut River (hmm, wonder where those bodies came from).

It doesn’t take long before Craven is out-running Northmoor security goons and sticking a gun in the face of the company’s surly boss (Danny Huston).

The action in “Edge of Darkness” is sudden and graphic. But in between these jolts of excitement are scenes that drag on with no real purpose.

Gibson often shares the screen with the fantastic English actor Ray Winstone (“Sexy Beast”), who plays a government clean-up man who is sympathetic to Craven’s cause but also charged with stopping him.

Winstone seems locked and loaded in his chatty moments, ready to chew the scenery. But the rewritten script by Oscar-winner William Monahan (“The Departed”) gives him little to munch on.

“Edge of Darkness” is based on a British TV series that aired in 1985 (which Campbell also directed). Its story of government cover-ups and corporate corruption was a sign of the times – the nuclear arms race would soon come to a head.

That source material transfers easily to our post-9/11 world where the dirty deeds of multibillion dollar weapons makers and private security firms are a part of the political landscape. The new film has something to say about these companies (namely: they’re bad), but doesn’t do a very good job of saying it.

The movie is confused about its own aspirations. Is this a drama about a father’s loss? Definitely not.

Is this a political thriller? Maybe, but a good political thriller should consistently surprise the viewer. The movie’s revelations are met with a resounding “duh.” (Northmoor is making nuclear weapons! Massachusetts’ Republican senator is dirty! No way!)

So is this an action movie? Yes, but it can’t even get that right.

“Edge of Darkness” should remind you of “Taken,” the Liam Neeson revenge saga that was released this time last year.

Both feature gun-toting dads out to avenge their daughters. The difference is “Taken” knew exactly what it wanted to be – a ridiculous action film filled with over-the-top violence.

“Edge of Darkness” eventually goes that route. But by the time it gets there, the shootouts feel like they belong in another movie. Maybe “Lethal Weapon 5”?


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