Dave on film: bored at the “Edge of Darkness”

Am I the only one tired of tough cop films at this point? Maybe, maybe not. Apparently, though, after a rough few years, Mel Gibson has decided that going back to his roots is how he can reinvent and relaunch his career. Problem is, well, it doesn’t really work.

Review: Edge of Darkness

Mel Gibson has made a lot of films where he’s the simple-minded tough guy, notably the Lethal Weapon series, but the last few years have seen his personal life overshadow his career, as he careened from one gaffe to the next. Edge of Darkness represents him trying to get back into the groove, to recover his acting career, and it’s an exciting but distressingly formulaic film.

The film, based on a mid-80’s BBC drama also directed by Martin Campbell, opens with choppy home movies of daughter Emma (Gabrielle Popa) at the beach when she was seven or eight, cutting directly to Tom Craven (Gibson) waiting for the adult Emma (Bojana Novakovic) at Boston’s South Station. She arrives and is visibly ill, throwing up multiple times in the first few minutes and even having a nose bleed at one point.

He asks how about her job and she responds that he has “no idea what I do for a living.” That’s the starting point for the movie because she’s right, Tom has no idea what Emma does for a living. Moments later masked thugs show up at the door and shoot her dead, in one of the most cheesy and melodramatic death scenes I’ve watched in the last decade. Surprise, the police blithely assume the criminals were gunning for Tom and it’s up to him as the rogue cop and avenging angel to launch his own investigation and figure out who killed her and why.

As is unfortunately too common in modern movies, narrative threads are lost as the film proceeds; people are introduced as sympathetic characters, killed, then never mentioned or referenced again. It’s the sort of zeal that makes me yearn for a day when directors had the freedom to make movies as long as they needed to fully explain the entire story, not just the main character’s experience in the situation.

In a strange nod to The Sixth Sense, Tom constantly talks with dead people too, once his mother, but mostly Emma. As the viewer, it was disconcerting because Emma would show up in scenes and reveal a critical observation, then vanish again after he acknowledges her existence. It often made Tom seem more like a homeless person, particularly in one scene at a public park where he’s dressed in a long raincoat and sits on a bench talking to Emma.

The other thing that bothered me is that because the bad guys are so darn evil, anything that the good guy does in bringing them to vigilante justice is acceptable. Tom tracks down Emma’s boyfriend, David Burnham (Shawn Roberts) then promptly breaks into the man’s apartment and gets into a fight with him. No problem, though, he’s on the trail of the bad guys.

In the next scene we find that Craven’s broken into Emma’s apartment and is going through her stuff. Yeah, he’s her father, but this is clearly not acceptable police procedure, he’s no longer in Boston and is out of his jurisdiction, and it’s not a problem?

He learns that Emma worked for Northmoor, the cliché Big Evil Corporation peopled with slick executives and emotionless security personnel. Tom meets with Northmoor executive Jack Bennett (Danny Huston), a senior corporate executive, and tries to learn more about what Emma did for the company, but predictably is rebuffed that her work — even as an intern — was classified and can’t be shared.

More characters show up as the story unfolds, including the mysterious government agent Jedburgh (Ray Winstone) and the naive Senator Jim Pine (Damien Young). Eventually there are a couple of important themes that emerge, but by that point it’s clear that the reason for Tom’s actions are irrelevant, he’s just a broken, nothing-left-to-lose rogue cop who is going to ploddingly figure out what’s going on, even if he has to kill everyone along the way.

Ultimately, Edge of Darkness is what I’d expect to get if I threw Lethal Weapon and two other Gibson films, Conspiracy Theory and Payback, into a blender. He’s the same character, the same flat, troubled, slightly clueless man in all of them. Perhaps Gibson has lost whatever emotional range he had earlier in his career, but in this film, he just seemed lost.

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