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"EDGE OF DARKNESS"
(2010) (Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Suspense/Thriller: As a Boston detective tries to figure out who murdered his adult daughter and why, he uncovers a conspiracy that continues to grow to levels he never imagined.
PLOT:
Thomas Craven (MEL GIBSON) is a single dad and Boston detective who's happy that his 24-year-old daughter, Emma (BOJANA NOVAKOVIC), has arrived for a visit. A nuclear engineer in training at military contractor Northmoore, the young woman seems to have something on her mind. When she ends up vomiting blood, Thomas knows something isn't right, but as they leave the house to rush to the doctor, a masked man on the street blows her back into the house with a deadly shotgun blast.

Shocked, but unable to think of anyone who would want him dead, Thomas sets out to find who's responsible, much to the chagrin of the case's lead detective, Bill Whitehouse (JAY O. SANDERS). Thomas begins with Emma's boyfriend, David Burnham (SHAWN ROBERTS), who he's never met but seems quite paranoid about being observed by people who don't want him to talk. With that only raising his suspicion, Thomas digs deeper by going up higher, including meeting with Northmoore CEO Jack Bennett (DANNY HUSTON) and eventually U.S. Senator Pine (DAMIAN YOUNG) who's benefitted from major contributions from that corporation.

As he starts to piece together a growing conspiracy, Thomas must not only contend with Bennett's goons who want him silenced, but also Darius Jedburgh (RAY WINSTONE). He's nebulous figured hired by the Feds to clean up the mess, but his allegiance is questionable at best. From that point on, Thomas takes the law into his own hands while determined to bring his daughter's killers to his own brand of justice.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Everyone knows the saying that "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." That's fairly true in real life, but in the movies, the fury of Hades usually arrives courtesy of a father and/or husband whose family has been wronged in some fashion. It really makes no difference if that involves robbery, kidnapping, assault or murder as the movie dad goes the solo judge, jury and executioner route in getting revenge and serving what he thinks is the appropriate justice for the guilty party or parties.

Such tales have been around forever, but were popularized by the "Death Wish" films of the 1970s and '80s. They still pop up every few years, to varying degrees of success, including the barely seen Kevin Bacon variation "Death Sentence" from 2007 to last year's surprise hit, "Taken." Following directly in the latter's footsteps -- including a similar calendar release -- is "Edge of Darkness."

It's fairly rote material. A 24-year-old (Bojana Novakovic) is gunned down right in front of her cop father (Mel Gibson) who then sets out to find out who knows what and/or might be responsible, including her boyfriend (Shawn Roberts), boss (Danny Huston), and a nebulous corporate "cleaner" (Ray Winstone) whose allegiance and motives are up in the air. Laws end up broken, doors and faces get bashed in, and bodies start piling up.

We've seen it all before, and it's fairly easy to predict not only who the bad guys are, but also how things will play out, both in the short and long term. Yet, there's something about the way in which director Martin Campbell and writers William Monahan and Andrew Bovell have arranged the material and Gibson, Winstone and others run with it that makes the entire affair go down fairly easily, especially if you're in the mood for the latest offering of take-no-prisoners, vindictive butt-kicking.

The "twist," if you will, is the direction in which the story and its contained conspiracy unfold. Without giving too much away, let's just say it expands and evolves from a small and intimate tale of personal loss to a corporate scandal, national security and such, with the action and villains edging toward something of a domestic James Bond vibe. Coincidentally or not, Campbell has experience in that arena, having taken Pierce Brosnan's 007 in new directions in "Goldeneye" and then rebooting the series with the serious remake of "Casino Royale."

The director's familiarity with that sort of tale, however, has nothing on the fact that Campbell has an even more intimate connection with this story. That's not on some sort of personal, off-the-job incident, but rather that he directed the original miniseries -- from way back in 1985 -- on which this offering is based. I've never seen that, but things have obviously been updated, truncated, and what not in taking the original six episodes and whittling them down to a more viewer-friendly, slightly less than two-hour runtime.

The filmmaker and his scribes clearly know what audiences are looking for in this sort of tale -- revenge, action, some tender moments and little bits of humor -- and deliver that in spades (and then some). Whereas "Taken" was confined by its PG-13 rating, this one takes advantage of the content liberties afforded by the higher R rating, meaning those who have a jones for violence will certainly come away mostly if not fully satiated by the onscreen mayhem and bad guy comeuppance that permeate the second half.

With a history of playing take-action characters, one couldn't ask for much better than Mel Gibson in the role of the bereaved, determined and vengeful father. Marking his first starring turn in front of the camera since 2002 (in "Signs" -- having otherwise been busy directing "The Passion of the Christ" and "Apocalypto"), the actor's one downfall in terms of drawing in viewers could very well be his drunken, anti-Semitic remarks from a few years back.

Viewer opinion about and response to that ugly incident will obviously vary, but I'm generally of the mindset that past personal behavior shouldn't affect my critical view of current artistic work, so neither Gibson nor the film in which he appears will lose any points based on any of that. Much like the story, the performance is fairly rote, but Gibson brings enough nuances to the part to make it work, especially for audiences with a hankering for such material.

As usual, Ray Winstone is terrific with his onscreen work, this time playing the mysterious, hard to pin down and potentially dangerous figure who's somehow involved with the conspiracy. Danny Huston is appropriately slimy as the slippery corporate head, while the likes of Shawn Roberts, Jay O. Sanders, Bojana Novakovic and others are all fine in what's asked of them.

Granted, some will see the plot as getting too convoluted and grandiose in scale for its own good, while they and/or others might similarly think it gets a little too nasty and brutal, and some specific incidents (including the opening catalyst and later, highly effective jump scene) are more than a little far-fetched if one really thinks about the timing and logistics of what occurs.

Even so, for the most part the film works for what's expected of it, thanks to both Campbell who keeps things moving at a brisk pace and the lead actor who brings bits and pieces of Det. Riggs and Mad Max to his role in doling out justice, pure Mel Gibson style. While clearly not for all viewers, the pic delivers for those with a taste for watching a furious dad serving the bad and corrupt his personal version of H-E-Double Hockey Sticks. "Edge of Darkness" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed January 26, 2010 / Posted January 29, 2010


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