'Darkness' goes over the edge

Posted: Thursday, February 04, 2010

'Edge of Darkness'

Warner Bros. Pictures

1 hour, 57 minutes

After Mel Gibson made "The Passion of the Christ," I remember predicting that we wouldn't see him in regular Hollywood fare again. After all, it would seem hypocritical for the man to go back to making money for gratuitously secular movies after making what is arguably the most widely-seen and oft-discussed religious film ever made. Upon reflection, however, I'm not sure why I thought that. "Passion" is pretty gratuitous itself, and Mel has, over the last few years, proved that he is no stranger to hypocrisy. A high-profile arrest, racist slurs, and a depressingly callow divorce (he left his wife of 28 years and their seven children for a pop-star and a love child) have pretty much shattered whatever positive public image the star once had. When you look at it that way, his return to R-rated, foul language-laden shoot-em-ups like this week's "Edge of Darkness," is peanuts in the sin category.

Despite how I feel about him personally, I've always liked Gibson's movies, so I was actually looking forward to "Edge." Directed by Martin Campbell, of the "Zorro" movies and "Casino Royale," among others, "Edge of Darkness" tells the tale of Boston Detective Thomas Craven (Gibson) who welcomes his grown daughter home for a visit only to watch her get shot to death on the front porch. Operating on the assumption that Craven was the actual target, the police begin canvassing the area, but one tiny clue after another leads our grief-stricken father to believe that, in fact, his daughter, a low-level intern in a nuclear research facility, has been assassinated. With nothing left to lose, Craven will follow this trail to the bitter end, no matter how high the conspiracy goes, taking out anyone who gets in his way.

Sounds good, right? And for a little while, it was. I had a few problems, to be sure. The script kept telling me how torn up Craven was about the loss of his daughter, but somehow the despair never fully made its way into Gibson's acting. I kept thinking of other movies I'd seen about vengeance-mad fathers; Sean Penn in "Mystic River" or Kevin Bacon in "Death Sentence," a movie that's not great but 10 times as emotionally affecting as "Darkness." As well, the Boston locale was wasted, never really playing as authentic. Take "The Departed," "Gone Baby Gone" or, again, "Mystic River" -- movies about Boston usually have a very particular feel, and this one felt like a poser.

But, I told myself, it's an action movie, at heart. There's no question that Campbell and Gibson know how to stage thrilling scenes of violence and intrigue, and "Darkness" has plenty of them. So, it's not going to win any Oscars for its depth or subtlety -- big deal. That was my thinking for about the first half of the movie, but as things move on and heat up, the script just gets more and more preposterous until, by the end, it all just devolves into pointless gunplay, most of the carefully-constructed byzantine plot completely forgotten. Finally, the film ends with one of the goofiest scenes I've seen in a long time, completely obliterating whatever meager amount of cool that might have been left.

The problem lies in the fact that, as so often happens with these kind of films, the writers couldn't figure out how to end it. It's pretty much what happens at the end of a timed test in school. The bell's gonna ring and you've still got 10 questions left, so you just answer "c" for every answer in the blind hope that something'll make some kind of sense.

The acting left little to praise, though little to complain about, too. It was pretty middle-of-the-road. Gibson's voice seemed nasallier than normal, but maybe it was his New England accent. One of the biggest wastes was in that of Ray Winstone, a talented British actor who here plays an empty cliche. Described as an extremely dangerous man, a member of a shadowy agency who "fixes" problems of National Security when they arise, Winstone's character does absolutely nothing but utter cryptic phrases until the very end. When he finally does act, it's completely ridiculous.

When you add it all up, "Edge of Darkness" turns out to be big mess of a movie with a few well-done action sequences stringing it all together. Die hard fans of the genre will probably forgive many of the flaws, but you can't deny that the production wraps up in a completely unsatisfactory manner. Gibson may yet have a comeback in him, and I won't begrudge him that, nor will I boycott his movies even though I find his personal behavior pretty repellent. I mean, if you avoided every movie starring an actor who's actually an unfaithful jerk with a drinking problem, I'm not sure you'd get out very often.

However, if "Darkness" tells us anything it's that Mel Gibson's got a long way to go to get back into the light.

Grade: C-

"Edge of Darkness" is rated R for violence and language.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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