Say what you will about Mel Gibson but it is hard to argue that he is in fact one of the finest actors and filmmakers of his generation. From films like the "Mad Max" and "Lethal Weapon" series to movies like "Maverick," "Tequila Sunrise," "Hamlet," "Ransom," "Payback" and "What Women Want," Gibson has done it all including winning an Oscar for directing "Braveheart." But it was his polarizing, yet incredibly successful films "The Passion Of The Christ" and "Apocalypto," both of which he directed, along with his infamous "incident in Malibu" that has had the actor/director on the "DL" in Hollywood over the past few years. In fact, "Edge Of Darkness" marks the actors first return to a major role in front of the camera since '2002s "Signs" and "When We Were Soldiers." Regardless of what you think about Gibson's religious and political views or his off-screen antics, "Edge Of Darkness" reminds you of one thing ... Mel Gibson is a brilliant actor/movie-star and maybe just one of the best.
Unquestionably, Gibson carries an on-screen presence much like Harrison Ford, Tom Cruise or Bruce Willis, a movie-star quality that allows the audience a familiarity with the actor no matter what character or what type of film he is in. Yet at the same time, commanding the scenes with a presence that many fine actors just don't have. In short they are the total package, an actor that fascinates the audience to watch while captivating with his performance. Do I think these actors have some shortcomings? Yes, of course I do but pound for pound they are the elite and have been so for over two decades. It will be interesting to see if in ten years some of today's more modern movie stars will still be around? I imagine we'll still have actors such as Russell Crowe, George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio but will flavor of the months like Gerard Butler, Christian Bale and Sam Worthington still be around? Fine performers in their own rights but time will only tell if they have what it takes to regain the title of movie-star status over the course of decades. In the meantime we have Gibson's riveting performance in "Edge Of Darkness" to act, as a barometer for what solid screen acting should be.
The film is directed by the terrific English director Martin Campbell and is based on the 1985 BBC Television series of the same name, which was also directed by Campbell. The differences between the film and the original series are only slight and include minor changes to the characters names and the plot being set in Boston, Massachusetts as apposed to London, England. In the film, Gibson plays Thomas Craven a Boston Homicide Detective who is excited to have his estranged daughter home for a visit. Emma arrives and is acting odd. She seems to have a secret that she wants to share with her Dad but before she can becomes deathly ill. As Thomas is attempting to take Emma to the hospital she is gunned down in front of him on the porch of his own home. The only clue is that it was a professional hit and the assailants yelled, "CRAVEN!" Obviously, the police begin to suspect that it was a hit on Thomas gone wrong, probably by someone from one of his old cases. After convincing his superiors to allow him to stay on the case he begins to believe that he might not have been the target. As Thomas begins to delve into his daughter's past he becomes alarmed at what he finds.
In her purse he finds a gieger counter and a gun and realizes that there is a whole lot more going on here than meets the eye. Emma worked at a government research facility and Thomas begins to believe that she may have been killed because of something she learned at work that she was not supposed to know, something illegal that the company might be involved in. After Craven interrogates Emma's boss Bennett, played by the wonderfully evil Danny Huston, Bennett realizes that Craven is close to figuring out what is going on and calls in their CIA friends to help clean up the mess before it gets any worse. Enter; Matt Jedburgh a CIA operative played brilliantly by Ray Winstone, who is charged with the task of making this all go away, which starts with killing Craven. However, Jedburgh has a secret of his own, he's dying and he'd like to do one good thing with his life before he dies. He befriends Craven and through an odd and unspoken alliance helps him to navigate the tricky political waters that lead all the way up to a state Senator, in order to find out the truth about what happened to his daughter and bring down the men that are responsible. However, he'll have to act fast because what ever made Emma sick is starting to affect him and it's manifesting in an unusual way ... Thomas is communicating with Emma. Whether it is real or imagined, Thomas believes that Emma's spirit is guiding him to the truth.
What I like about the film is that on the surface it is a revenge movie but really it is a political thriller and the audience is more invested with the thriller aspect because we can relate to the story of a father loosing his daughter. Martin Campbell, the director behind "Casino Roayle" and the upcoming "Green Lantern," does a fantastic job with this film and I can't wait to see what he does with the popular DC Comics' character. Campbell did a phenomenal job of adapting his twenty-five year-old British Television series into a first rate American film for today's audience. Boston and its rich history of corruption serve as a perfect substitute to London and a fantastic backdrop for the political corruption in the film. In fact Boston it's self and the tight-community that it is, lends some great nuances to the film and its characters. A lot of that, I assume, can be attributed to the movie's writer William Monahan who also penned "The Departed" and was born and raised in the Boston area. His knowledge of the city, its people and the way they behave is in abundance here and shines through every well-written scene in the film. As a native of Boston myself I appreciated the authenticity of the film and got a kick out of the line, "Everything is illegal in Massachusetts," which is repeated several times throughout the movie in an extremely sarcastic tone.
Danny Huston is marvelous as the corporate scoundrel Bennett and really has perfected playing the slimy villain recently with his performances in films like "The Constant Gardner" and "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." In an interesting side-note, acting legend Robert De Niro was originally scheduled to play the part of Jedburgh but left the production just before shooting for creative reasons. While the opportunity to see Gibson and De Niro go head-to-head in a film is quite a prospect, ultimately I'm glad that Winstone got the part. He is a much more versatile actor than De Niro is at this point in his career and I think the nuances of Gibson's fine performance could have been overshadowed by the spectacle of the two acting titans going at it. Winstone, who also appeared in Monahan's "The Departed" as well as "Sexy Beast" and "Beowulf," gives a quit and complex performance that really helps the film work on many levels. He allows us to feel the insecurities and doubts of his mysterious character, while keeping us guessing about his true intentions, which makes his character's arc much more interesting in the end.
But it is the triumphant return of Mel Gibson, the actor, that makes this film a must see. In a role that is not unlike Martin Riggs, his character from the "Lethal Weapon" movies, and even resembles some of his other films like "Payback" or "Ransom,' Gibson is able to create a brand new, sympathetic character that is believable and someone that you want to see succeed. Gibson's hidden talent is the ability to bring the audience inside his character and feel his grief, as he did in the opening scenes of "Lethal Weapon." In doing this he wins over his audience, he makes them relate to his character and what he is going through so that we root for him to succeed in the end. No matter what terrible things he may do to find the truth, we forgive him because we understand the grief that he is feeling. Gibson is also excellent in interpreting the scenes with his daughter's ghost, walking the fine-line between reality and imagination. Allowing the audience to make up their own mind on what is happening without letting it ever cross into "The Sixth Sense" territory. In the end, "Edge Of Darkness" is an action-packed, powerful, political thriller that will move you with its sensitive story just as much as it will thrill you with its surprising twists and turns.
Edge of Darkness is out January 28, 2010.