by Tony Dayoub
Opening today, Edge of Darkness marks the first time Mel Gibson stars in a movie in seven years. A remake of a seminal British TV miniseries from the 1980s, its original director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) returns to do the translating. It is apparent (even to this writer, who never saw the original) that there was some compression involved in adapting the story to the screen. Convoluted story points rush towards the viewer at breakneck speed. Minor characters seem to have a larger than normal prominence. But in the case of what is at the core a conventional conspiracy thriller, these attributes serve to enhance the fresh feel of the film rather than detract from it.
It's easy to see what attracted Gibson to the dark material in the first place. Like most of the characters he plays, Boston police detective Thomas Craven is a masochist. No, he doesn't endure violent physical torture here like he does as Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon (1987), William Wallace in Braveheart (1995), or like the titular protagonist does in The Passion of the Christ (2004). Craven obsessively investigates the murder of his daughter, Emma (Bojana Novakovic), killed right before his eyes by an assailant who only at first glance was targeting him. He soon learns she led a compartmentalized life working for a classified nuclear energy project which may be at the root of her murder. Craven's determination to find those responsible lead him to immerse himself deeper and more painfully in the details and facts surrounding his daughter's death—and life—than most parents would ever care to. Director Campbell puts the viewer in Craven's headspace to get the point across, training the camera on the sink as he washes his daughter's blood off his face, making one conscious it is her life he sees circling down the drain. Then Gibson folds the bloodied hand towel ever so neatly and stows it in a glass, unable to part with her remains no matter how devastating a reminder they are. Here, the torture is purely emotional.
If the film's faults lie in the elliding and compression of its plot, its strengths are in Campbell's choice to favor personal moments over action oriented ones. He can still direct a brutal fight scene like the early one between Craven and a suspect who turns out to be Emma's boyfriend, or a violent collision such as the one which leads to a car falling into a lake. But more often than not, Campbell makes time to allow Craven and the viewer to ruminate on the relationship the cop had with his daughter. Photographs of Emma spark flashbacks to his relationship with her as a child, a particularly close one given the implication that he is a widower. One scene at the beach is particularly resonant, and even darkly humorous, because of the small mishap which occurs when he tries to spread her ashes.
Bolstering the resonance of the film's emotional undercurrent are the frequent and acute reminders that everyone is somebody's child. Even the tiniest characters in Edge of Darkness reveal quirks which make them stand out, like the reporter who apologizes to Craven for having to stalk him for a response, or the informant who keeps reminding him she owns a luggage store. More specifically, screenwriters William Monahan and Andrew Bovell work mightily to attune the viewer's state of mind to Craven's, one in which he is extremely aware of every individual's connection to parents, children, and their community—indeed their connection to life itself—a quality which some might think would hinder the detective in his quest for justice, but actually drives him forward. It also invests the thriller with a personal aspect which is so often lacking in such exercises.
This is not to say there aren't any underlying political dimensions to the film. Edge of Darkness is poised to be a resounding success—at least in the U.S.— despite some criticism about Gibson's character always seeming to be one step ahead of the movie's villains. It's a valid point. But it is also what helps the viewer identify so keenly with Craven. Given the current political climate, a determined vigilante seeking justice after his daughter is eliminated by government contractors for doing what is morally right is a ready-made hero for this era of anti-government populism.