A Man's Man

Mel Gibson's return to acting isn't great, but the film offers a decent noir-ish mystery

If there's anything better than revenge, Mel Gibson doesn't know what it is. And I think that we, as a nation, have established that the most sacred relationship is the one between a single dad and his recently gunned-down daughter. So when Mel Gibson plays a police detective whose only daughter is gunned down by Republicans, you can guess what he does.

And no, it's not voting for universal health care, because Gibson plays a Boston cop, and in Boston, they already have universal health care. In fact, if Edge of Darkness was a Clint Eastwood movie, Clint Eastwood would have said, "It's a good thing you've got universal health care. You're gonna need it."

But it's not a Clint Eastwood movie. There are two old guys who make revenge films, and Gibson wants us to remember that, so he signed on to star in this adaptation of a 1980s British TV series, which, strangely, is not simply a contemporary American-style violence fest. Instead, Edge of Darkness is an odd mix of that sort of film with a 1950s film noir.

So there's a lot of screen time not dedicated to rearranging the parts of bad people. Instead, the film starts with a creepy noirish shot of three bodies bobbing to the surface of the Connecticut River. Then we see a bunch of home videos of a young girl, Emma Craven, as her dad, Det. Thomas Craven (Gibson), expresses his intense love. Then there is more setup as we cut to 19 years later, when Emma is returning from her secret research job to see her dad.

Expository dialogue tells us that Det. Craven loves his daughter, and she loves him, and his wife is dead, and, oh, he really likes his daughter, so it'd be a shame if she were to explode in a burst of gunfire and jump-cutting. Ultimately, this is all just setup for the revenge, and it's handled so clumsily that I wish they had just put up a title card that read, "Trust us; this guy loved his daughter a lot, so if someone were to, say, poison her and then shoot her in the stomach, he'd be fully motivated in seeking revenge." Then they could cut to the shot of Gibson hurting people, and a subtitle could come up explaining that these are people who need hurting, and then after a few more gunshots, we could all go home.

But that's not how movies work, and once you get past the embarrassingly bad dialogue of the opening segment, Edge of Darkness is very sit-through-able. I mean, you'll check your watch once or twice, but you should be able to hold your pee until the credits come up.

Ray Winstone, who is always a pleasure—even when he's been CGI'ed into a medieval warrior—adds some zing as a secret government operative in charge of hiding the reasons why Craven's daughter was converted into red carpet dye. He and Gibson have some nice scenes together, even if they don't make much sense. Like, it's clear that the operative should be killing Craven, but instead, they just kind of make out a little.

Metaphorically speaking, of course. You don't actually get to see the 5-o'clock-shadow-on-blubbery-jowl deep-tongue scene, but you feel it, like a bad burrito you ate two days ago as it finally finds your colonic sweet spot.

In spite of the limited Gibson-on-Winstone action, the story is fairly complex. At first, I thought this odd, because I was expecting the standard Gibson/Eastwood bloodfest, but about halfway through, in part thanks to the jazz soundtrack, I realized this was meant to be more of a noir. It's not a great noir, but it does borrow some nice plot points from D.O.A., Kiss Me Deadly and The Big Heat.

That soundtrack is pretty great. Howard Shore, who is inconsistent with his scores, hits this one out of the ballpark. Eschewing the contemporary trend toward blaring techno during fight scenes, he instead goes with deadly horns and evil, Bernard Herrmann-esque violins that reek of sorrow and form a neat contrast to the face-bashing that bloodies the screen. I wish more films would use soundtracks that add contrast, instead of emphasizing what's obviously occurring.

Shore's work brings out the sadness that keeps Craven going as he worms his way into the mystery. Gibson himself does a pretty good job as well. This isn't his finest acting work (he actually was a pretty decent actor at one time), but that's because he's channeling Glenn Ford: He's a 1950s man's man, and he shows emotion by staring with steely purpose, clenching all his sphincters and forming a cancerous ball of hate deep inside; you can just barely see it bubbling up behind his eyes.

While Edge is not great, it is pretty decent fare for this time of year, when Oscar season is over, and the summer blockbusters aren't quite ready for release. A lot of dogs will be running through theaters in the next 60 days, but at least this one isn't leaving a steaming pile of biologically processed Alpo in the middle of the room.


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