Mark Reviews Movies


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Martin Campbell

Cast: Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, Bojana Novakovic, Shawn Roberts, David Aaron Baker, Jay O. Sanders, Denis O'Hare, Damian Young

MPAA Rating: R (for strong bloody violence and language)

Running Time: 1:57

Release Date: 1/29/10

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Review by Mark Dujsik | January 28, 2010

This is a revenge thriller not satisfied enough to just be one, smart enough to play some games with genre logic, and involving enough to make us go along with the notion that it's more than its surface, even if it's not. Edge of Darkness follows the mindset of its most fascinating character: Keep it so complicated that no one will be able to see what's right under the nose.

What's right in front of us is the story of a cop working outside of the criminal justice system to find his daughter's killer and avenge her death. It's the type of story we've seen countless times, and yet, until it's brutal, violent, angry climax, screenwriters William Monahan and Andrew Bovell fill in the open moments of the hero's investigation with scenes of massive government and corporate conspiracies and cover-ups by men in suits. It's also a plot that's been done to death, but it's meshed well into the main narrative and played with enough cynical amusement to help overlook that as well.

The cop is Thomas Craven (Mel Gibson), and I suppose I should point out here that he is not the most fascinating character in the film. We'll get to him later, but in the meantime, Craven witnesses the murder of his daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) by a masked man waiting outside of his house.

Everyone, Craven included, believes that he was the intended target of the assassin. That is not the case, which unravels with Craven's investigation into the Boston company with a government defense contract where his daughter worked.

This is where it gets intriguing. The company's CEO Jack Bennett (Danny Huston) tells Craven that it's illegal for them to be working on weapons manufacturing and that any such work would be considered classified. To talk about such classified information would not only be a breach of company security but also of national security. The implication being that even if one were to find out about illegal activity, the consequences for talking about it would be, according to the film's climbing body count, deadly. It helps that Bennett is an admitted sociopath, too. "What does it feel like," he asks Craven about losing a child.

Monahan and Bovell have fun with these systematic semantics even before this catch-22. Craven's captain sees him after Emma's death, and we expect the usual points of such a scene: leave of absence, and turn in your gun and badge. Instead, Craven argues that since they are looking for someone with a grudge against him, he's the best person for the job. The captain is stunned, but yes, the logic holds.

Also note a scene in which Craven turns the game upon two goons who have been following him. He backs into their car and arrests them for rear-ending a police vehicle and having guns. The goons are furious, not because of the action, but because of the breaking of the implied understanding: If people are tailing someone, that person is just supposed to let them follow.

There's a code to these proceedings; we call them part of a formula. The film has a knack for pinpointing these moments and has no problem breaking with our expectations (and apparently the characters' as well).

The biggest detraction from the blueprints comes in the form of Ray Winstone as Jedburgh, a mysterious clean-up man working for the government. His character would be the villain in a lesser film, shadowing our hero, killing off his leads, and always a threat to his life. Here, though, Jedburgh is portrayed as an independent contractor with no loyalties except to his own rules. He sits down with Craven, talks with him fairly openly about what's happening behind the scenes, and waxes philosophical with him. "I don't know what it's like to lose a child," he says, "but I know what it's like never to have one."

He'll allow Craven to keep searching, but whether or not he'll try to stop the cop is dependent upon a motivation of which we're never sure. Jedburgh is a character deserving his own story, but his presence in this one keeps everything on its toes.

Director Martin Campbell (who also directed the British miniseries upon which the film is based) keeps the pacing at a trot (even when certain informers appear with little to no setup) and also takes part in playing with what we expect. There's a moment in which we know a contact of Craven's isn't going to walk away from their meeting unscathed, but the abruptness in the timing makes what's predictable still a shock (as long as you don't take too much time pondering how the perpetrator scheduled the hit so perfectly).

Gibson is good with his steely gaze, whether he's standing down an oncoming car or considering pulling the trigger on Bennett without evidence of his involvement, and the film sets up the conviction of Craven's grief in the first act, sometimes forcibly (flashbacks to Emma as a little girl and her voice in his mind) and others serene (placing the rag he's used to clean her blood off his face in a glass for safekeeping).

It's a familiar story of vigilante at the center of Edge of Darkness but played with an acute awareness of what it is. More importantly, the film knows the right ways to subvert that fact.

Copyright 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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