Edge of Darkness (2010)

Edge of Darkness, based on the 80’s BBC television serial of the same title, suffers from many of the same problems that you expect when you try to squish six hours of film into two. The story feels very compressed, aiming too high in scope for the time frame we’re given, and introducing too many elements that might have worked with triple the time, but given how the film lasts under two hours, seem unnecessary. Its tone is all over the place, and the story sits awkwardly between being predictable and incomprehensible.

But, hey, it’s always nice to see a film that gives Mel Gibson his first starring role since 2002’s Signs. Gibson is one of the main reasons that this movie works at all, showcasing all of the intensity that’s required when portraying a man whose daughter just got shot dead in front of his home. Also, he’s a cop, because if this was an “ordinary” man taking things into his own hands, we might have to include a scene in which he either outshoots or outruns the police. The way it’s handled here, he can just talk with them whenever he does something questionable, which is far less expensive.

Gibson plays Thomas Craven, a veteran Boston cop who has been estranged from his daughter, Emma (Bojana Novakovic), for a while. Or maybe they just fell out of touch — the film doesn’t really expand on that. She’s happy enough to see him, although she’s ill. Her nose starts bleeding, she throws up, and the mutual decision is made to go to the hospital. Probably a good decision, especially after we find out what caused her illness. They won’t make it to the hospital, though, as she gets killed by a man who yells out a single word, “Craven,” and then runs away.

Obviously, being a police officer who has arrested hundreds of people, everyone thinks that Thomas was the target of the murderer, and that the man with the shotgun just wasn’t a very good shot. Thomas isn’t so sure, and after reporting to his boss and informing the force that he’ll be investigating the murder, he heads out looking for revenge, clues, and anything else that might allow him to locate the killer and learn about his daughter’s top-secret job.

You’ll be unsurprised to learn that it involves conspiracy, coverup, evil corporate bosses (Danny Huston), and a shady man (Ray Winstone) who knows more than he’s letting on. There is ultimately too much going on, and it’s all familiar territory, so you can be forgiven for not paying a lot of attention to the story. Mostly, the film wants to reassure us that Gibson can carry a film as a hardened man with nothing to lose, and it does a good job of that.

Thomas isn’t exactly the most righteous cop, constantly breaking the law to get what he wants. He even goes so far as to threaten a lawyer and a U.S. Senator over the duration of Edge of Darkness. He’ll do whatever it takes to get what he wants. For the majority of the film, he’s looking for clues about whatever was going on, and in order to acquire anything that might lead him to the next one, he has to beat on people with either his fists of words.

It’s kind of refreshing to see him beat people down more frequently with a slick tongue than with improbable action scenes, and this actually helps keep the action scenes slightly grounded. Because they are infrequent and don’t have to continually surprise us, director Martin Campbell — who is no stranger to action films, giving us the Zorro films and two Bond movies, while also helming the original BBC television serial — can give us visceral action scenes that feel real because they don’t have to continually top each other. Sure, they get progressively impressive, but they never become unbelievable, which helps us buy in to what we’re seeing.

Perhaps the most interesting element of Edge of Darkness is Ray Winstone’s character, who is an enigma. He is first seen in a shady deal taking place in a parking lot, and next he manages to sneak up behind Thomas and surprise him, although he doesn’t threaten our protagonist at this point. They actually have a fairly amiable relationship, although we always have to wonder exactly what Wisntone’s character’s purpose is, and why he’s helping Thomas — if he really is.

Part of the reason for the intrigue with this character comes from Winstone, who is so great in the role. When the film actually starts working, it’s because of the scenes that are shared between Gibson and Winstone. The other part is because the character isn’t given enough time to be explained, so he shows up as an unexplained phenomenon. Sure, he fills a role, but like much of the story, we’re not 100% sure exactly what that role is or why he’s here. That’s the problem with this type of compression: Sacrifices have to be made.

Edge of Darkness isn’t a bad film but it’s so inconsistent and finds itself neither intriguing or familiar enough to keep an audience that it’s really hard to recommend it. I liked how there wasn’t an overload of action scenes, and the actors were all fun to watch — in particular, Gibson’s determination and Winstone’s ambiguity and creepiness — but the film as a whole feels almost like a chore to watch. Translating a six-hour television show to a two-hour film is difficult, and it wasn’t a complete success here, as it’s familiar yet paradoxically also too convoluted, leading to a lot of tedium while watching it.

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