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Edge of Darkness
Genre Thriller

It's been a good 8 years since Mel Gibson had to have that chat with the top half of his wife in Signs. Since then he's been spotted in Papparazzi, The Singing Detective and a TV series called Complete Savages. Speaking of savages, he's also directed two blood-thirsty yet critically-acclaimed films in The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto. So it'd be fair to say that Edge of Darkness marks his return after a long break from acting ever since he agreed to star in that high concept movie with Helen Hunt.

Now between Mad Max (1979) and The Patriot (2000), there was very little the Australian could do wrong. In Hollywood, he was basically on an equal footing to Bruce Willis. However, he soon dropped down to Tom Selleck status after a series of DUIs and derogatory comments. What happened!? I guess no one will really know the truth, unless he stoops to one of those tell-all autobiographies. The sad truth is that we'll probably all turn back the clock to those 21 golden boy years when he eventually bites the dust... dismissing the rotten period for a bit of post-Hollywood solemnity.

So it was quite a gutsy move for Mel to show his face on screen again. The Hollywood moguls weren't having it... so he managed to crack the nod with BBC Films in a daring cross-Atlantic departure from their classic tea and scones eco-thriller TV series, Edge of Darkness (1985). Gibson plays Thomas Craven, a Boston detective on a mission to find his daughter's killers and uncover the dark secrets behind her illness and assassination. It stinks of Taken without the hope of rescuing a kidnapped daughter, the lightning pace and Liam Neeson. This is a slower film giving more credence to the drama, written by William Monahan (The Departed) and Andrew Bovell (Lantana), and directed by Martin Campbell (Casino Royale).

On paper, it's should be firing on all cylinders... channeling Gibson's dark days into a character, who could easily be Max Payne. In fact, it's a tragedy that Gibson wasn't cast as Payne after that dazzling disaster of a video game adaptation starring Mark Wahlberg. Mel's got the turmoil bubbling over, but doesn't have that cheeky trademark smirk, which allowed him to get away with a mullet and a nude moonlit walk in Lethal Weapon. He's lost that sparkle and looks 10 years older... it's been a tough few years in the media spotlight.

He proved he could do revenge with Payback and follows that role up with a pretty convincing performance as Thomas Craven in Edge of Darkness. The film is an adaptation of a cult TV series revolving around British government nuclear policy in the '80s and aims for a mixture of Chinatown, Scarface and Taken in the hands of The Departed's Oscar-winning writer, William Monahan. However, it's a misfire and shows why the original was a TV series and not a feature film, devolving into a complete mess. Nukes, viruses, conspiracy and revenge plots mingle like several episodes of the X-Files without Scully. Not only are they missing the gorgeous redhead, but they've also forgotten Mrs. Craven. It's like they surgically removed her from the plot as Emma's death doesn't even warrant mention of the mother's whereabouts. We're left to assume she was either a test tube baby or an orphan as Mrs. Craven remains absent from all proceedings, including Emma's funeral and the afterlife.

It's one of those modern Film Noir wannabes, which occasionally surprises the audience with a glimmer of brilliance, only to shift back into neutral. The sluggish pace actually works with great effect when it's short, sharp bursts of action and sudden reflex set pieces. Gibson's performance is strong enough to suspend the narrative, but there's only so much BS an actor can absorb before the whole mystery unravels to reveal... nothing. Perhaps Edge of Darkness would have been more effective if they'd given Craven a few days to find the cure to the virus to save his child, rather than embarking on a post-mortem operation with no redemptive reward besides revenge.

The Departed was elevated by its cast and legendary crime director in Scorsese and Monahan's writing just fitted more snugly. Edge of Darkness lacks the same finesse, generating a little interest from the overarching mystery but forgoing any real depth besides Craven's development as a father figure. The scatter-shot script feels like it was written on set, evolving genres and entertaining influences as the minutes slip by. Three converging plots of a personal vendetta, a government cover-up and a political conspiracy all seem to meet at a crossroads, pile-up and leave no survivors.

The production values, classic vendetta scenario, film noir mystery and star power in Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone and Danny Huston make you want to like Edge of Darkness, but it's like watching a train smash in slow-motion. The TV series adaptation probably garnered renewed interest with its ecological slant, but the issues at hand seem tired and it would've been better if they'd kept it British and more '80s. State of Play translated well on American soil with a more generic political plot, but Edge of Darkness just doesn't have the same reach. So there it is... a dark, contemporary film noir detective thriller with noble intentions that spun out of control somewhere along the line - only entertaining if you steer towards the edge of reason.

The bottom line: Half-baked.



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