As a parent, there’s no prospect worse than that of losing your child. To have the soul you’ve nurtured from innocence to independence stolen– even worse, violently– is the stuff that inspires the inkiest thoughts of revenge in the most law abiding of citizens. How much closer to darkness would an individual be if they had the means and wherewithal to do something about it?
Edge of Darkness wants to explore that grief-born fulcrum and a host of other potentially compelling themes and characters, but resigns itself to trudge, heavy-footed, through less interesting convention procedures. The movie takes a mopey pace that plods its way to unsurprising, plot-servant answers when it’s really pining to spend its time cutting a blood-soaked rug of justice.
Mel Gibson, after a directing and crazy-man hiatus, returns to the screen as Ronald Craven, a Boston police detective with no connections to anyone but his daughter. When she visits, grows ill and is graphically shotgunned on the front porch of his home, Craven finds himself with nothing left to lose and primed to ballistically perforate cranium and appendage of those responsible.
Craven’s steely, burning focus on retaliation takes him from low-level goons to middle management and straight to the top of an Eco-terrorist, nuclear-political conspiracy. A conspiracy that, like all other ill-founded political conspiracies, enlarges its web with the body count of those who know about it.
Along the way, Craven crosses paths with “Closer for hire” Darius Jedburgh (Ray Winstone), whose cockney mumble makes him not only mysterious, but 50% unintelligible. He’s an interesting character- one who’s worn down, on his last leg and seemingly all the more callous for it, but one that’s sadly unexplored. Jedburgh is intended to play as Craven’s foil: a reflective glimpse of what happens to a man after tipping over the edge. Instead , he’s reduced to an expositional character plopped down to fill plot devices and tie up lose ends.
The same fate is true for virtually all other characters introduced throughout Edge of Darkness. It’s a very well cast film that preps its seasoned players to wander interesting paths, but instead gives them short shrift. We’re introduced to the aloof corporate sleaze Jack Benett (played by Danny Huston with his smoothly polished muculence) and government liason Moore (an anxious Denis O’Hare) that hint at more textured plot threads, but serve as place holders. As it goes, Craven rungs his way to the conspiratorial top aided by people who conveniently appear with vague hints and revelations when they need to– right before they’re conveniently killed by hit men whose perfect sense of timing would be an impeccable art if it weren’t so preposterous.
And there’s plenty of killin’– Edge of Darkness loves its meat. The camera lingers morbidly on gaping, oozing and mushy bullet wounds and the violence is sudden and brutal. Edge of Darkness takes hints gun play hints from its also-based-in-Boston predecessor The Departed, but the graphic nature of it all feels slightly out of place in a film as slow as this. As buffer, Edge also hosts a thin subplot that absent-mindedly pokes around the afterlife and hints at a guardian angel– all of which is paid off in the film’s final scenes. The daddy-daughter connection is there to add tender sentimentality in the wake of its two-fisted punch of meaty violence, but like many of the subplots, goes undeveloped.
Subplots all but boiled out, Edge of Darkness is a cinematic second cousin to the vengeance-based thriller Taken. Edge‘s release on the same day and date that Taken stormed the box office in 2009 is no coincidence. Still, Edge of Darkness is much slower and far less interested in action than Taken. As a thriller, Director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) and screenwriter William Monahan (The Departed, Kingdom of Heaven) unwisely focus on visiting unimportant beats that feel too long, while breezing through the pulpier stuff that feels too short. The key political conspiracy and its machinations are revealed far too late in the film to go anywhere and as woven through the plot could have been pulled out of a conspiracy grab bag. It’s just there as McGuffin to incite Craven’s building fury.
That said, it’s up to Mel Gibson to inject the proceedings with a geyser of good-guy-gone-wicked vengeance. In that, he’s solid. Edge of Darkness knows its hero and is well-built around Gibson’s ability to darkly smolder before burning magnesium hot. Gibson has always been an actor who can smoothly flip the switch between warmly charming, bewildered and desperate to guano-crazy, borderline-insane furious. There’s a painful scene of vulnerability as he cradles his dying daughter, but Gibson quickly settles into the slow simmer he excels at. Off-screen antics and allegations aside, it’s good to have him back.
Blame for stuff like this could usually be placed squarely at the feet of Campbell or even Monahan , but constricting a six hour BBC miniseries of the same name into a two hour movie feels like the real culprit. Characters feel truncated because they are truncated and the plot is A-B-C’d not because it wasn’t thought out, but because the proceedings have to clock in at 120 minutes or less. As a result, Edge of Darkness feels dry, one-dimensional and lacking in thrill or urgency. Still, Edge of Darkness isn’t a bad film. It’s just a film that–despite paying off on its promise of an eye-for-an-eye coup de grace– takes an underwhelming and scattershot ride to its dark, bullet-riddled destination.