** (Out of Four Stars)
In his first movie in nearly eight years, Mel Gibson is back in "Braveheart" form as a wronged victim on a mission of righteous vengeance. In fact, you can probably call this film "Bravedad" as Mel’s character, Boston cop Tom Craven, wreaks said vengeance on the military-industrial complex that slew his daughter Emma. Unfortunately, "Edge Of Darkness" is nowhere near as effective, or affecting, as the 1995 Oscar-winner.
(Warning: Spoilers Ahead!)
Now "Edge Of Darkness" does have a few things going for it, like some memorably hard-boiled dialogue by "The Departed’s" William Monahan ("Everything’s illegal in Massachusetts") and a typically committed, though overly-familiar, performance from Gibson as a rage-fueled angel of death.
Unfortunately, "Edge Of Darkness" has many more things going against it.
The audience is ahead of Tom Craven in figuring out that Emma’s employer, defense contractor Northmoor, is up to no good and that they actually poisoned Emma with radioactive materials to keep her from revealing Northmoor’s "secret" to the press/police. After all, the film opens with Emma bleeding from the nose and vomiting up a storm, but after she is shot dead by a mysterious gunman, Craven doesn’t initially follow up on the possibility that she was poisoned. The audience soon grows impatient waiting for Craven to catch up with what they already know, slowing the pace of the movie. This also makes Craven less sympathetic a lead, as he doesn’t seem to put the clues together as quickly as we do, and Craven is supposed to be a detective.
Since Craven doesn’t physically confront the bad guys at Northmoor until late in the game, it also means that there is very little action to satisfy fans of the genre. "Edge Of Darkness" is certainly no "Lethal Weapon" in the action department. The few action beats in the movie are all in the trailer – what you see is what you’re gonna get, and it ain’t much.
The Jedburgh "fixer" character played by Ray Winstone seems dramatically unnecessary, causing all his scenes, with or without Craven, to slow the pace as well. Jedburgh does waste some of Northmoor’s co-conspirators (the Senator and his flunkies), but Craven would have taken these co-conspirators down anyway with the evidence his daughter left him - the DVD of her revealing that Northmoor was illegally building nuclear weapons and that she was targeted for death because of it.
This "secret" also doesn’t seem worth the build-up when it is finally revealed. Not only are nukes a rather tired "McGuffin" when it comes to movies, but also it’s unclear what Northmoor plans to do with these nukes, so it’s equally unclear what the stakes are. There is some suggestion that the weapons will be used to fake a terrorist attack, but this isn’t stated explicitly enough to generate much anxiety in the mind of the viewer.
This is key because low stakes lead to little emotional investment in the hero’s journey. In Mel’s "Braveheart," William Wallace fights the English to save Scotland from oppression – very high stakes. But in "Edge Of Darkness," Craven doesn’t fight to save anyone – he’s just out to kill those who murdered his daughter, even though doing so will not bring his daughter back. A goal like this is problematic since a hero is supposed to save people, and sacrifice himself doing so if necessary, and not just punish the guilty. To just do the latter makes the hero’s journey a bit too cold and grim to fully relate to as an audience.
The supernatural elements (Craven hearing his daughter’s voice after she dies, etc.) don’t feel organic since they aren’t woven thoroughly enough through the story. And this in turn makes the ending, where Craven and Emma’s spirits walk off together after Craven and the bad guys kill each other, seem forced and phony, a way to give a dour revenge tale an upbeat ending.
If Mel Gibson wants a comeback to recapture his box-office glory days, he’s going to have to do it with a different movie than "Edge Of Darkness."
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