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02.03.10

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Phaedra

Courtesy of Warner Bros.
THE AVENGER: Mel Gibson is a cop seeking retribution in 'Edge of Darkness.'

Shoot Me Now

'Edge of Darkness' finds Mel Gibson so angry he can't move a muscle in his face

By Richard von Busack


ABSORBING in the way being in a bad mood is absorbing, Edge of Darkness can leave you with something like the malaise that comes with the beginning of a 48-hour bug. Only a really Catholic script could have put the creator of the ultimate crucifixion movie back in a starring role for the first time in eight years. This remake of a British TV series from 1985 has had the material shaped for Gibson by scriptwriters William Monahan and Andrew Bovell. There's an inside joke about the actor/director's knowledge of Latin, for example. And Gibson's police detective Thomas Craven sums up his moral stance: "Either you're hanging from the cross, or you're banging in the nails." Where that particular either/or leaves a movie audience is a matter of debate. Craven is a bereaved dad, as well as judge, jury, executioner and bailiff, so he likes to do a bit of both hanging and hammering.

Returning from her new home in a lefty town in rural Massachusetts—"Northmoor" equals "Northampton"—the cop's daughter, Emma (Bojana Novakovic), arrives for a visit. Emma is unwell. When her sickness gets urgent, she tries to tell her father about the real nature of her new job, but on the front porch, she's the victim of a drive-by shooting. Damming up the pain and leaving his fellow coppers out of the loop, Detective Craven goes on a search for the killers.

The trail leads to Emma's workplace, a sinister government-run nuclear facility on the palisades overlooking the Connecticut River. Meanwhile, the feds send out an operative of their own. As the sleek Jedburgh, Ray Winstone is by miles the best thing in this movie. He gets urbane lines like "When someone has a national security problem, they call a number in Norfolk, Virginia. Then I decide what happens next."

More dour than ever, Gibson tries to fill the function of the blank detective in a vortex of weirdos. But Edge of Darkness doesn't have enough weirdos, even though Danny Huston tries to make up for this lack as the plant's evil operator Jack Bennett, surrounded by grip 'n' grin photos with various presidents. Bennett makes a sadistic query about Craven's bereavement, and, in the finale, he swans around in a Sulka-style dressing gown.

Up until the final shootouts, which are brisk as firecrackers, Edge of Darkness plods through its one-clue-per-scene story. The visuals are mud in your eye, and when you think that the reason why Craven's house is so brown is because he's in a constant moral/religious crisis, we see the inside of Emma's flat. It's lit the same way, and the only difference is that she has some more insouciant refrigerator magnets.

It's not too much to ask that neonoir offer up some bad women in tight skirts; Edge of Darkness has no women to speak of except for two victims and one female reporter. The solution to the mystery is recorded as a video diary. As exposition, it's the least satisfying way to solve the problem. And it's hard to forgive the villain being held at gunpoint and then let go.

The atmosphere of paranoia is politically nondenominational. With its scheming senators, sinister SUVs and Taxachussets-bashing, teabaggers would love it. Craven gives the head of some kind of eco-looney group called "Nightflower" a good old-fashioned punching-out, even though the guy headed a group that was also trying to bring the villain to rights.

Not having any hope whatsoever in justice, the movie gets moony and metaphysical. This too must have attracted Gibson: during an eye exam, Jedburgh asks his doctor, "Do you see a soul in there?" We can see two of them at the end: the movie's hell-on-earth, heaven-in-the-next-world finale is worthy of a Christmas movie.


EDGE OF DARKNESS (R; 117 min.), directed by Martin Campbell, written by William Monahan and Andrew Bovell, photographed by Phil Meheux and starring Mel Gibson, plays countywide.


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