Thomas Craven (Mel Gibson) is a good cop whose only daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) returns for a visit. While she initially appears to be fine, she turns out to be incredibly sick. On the way to see a doctor, Emma is gunned down in Craven's front doorway. His fellow detectives think the hit was meant for him, but Craven digs deeper and believes the nuclear manufacturing company she worked for may have something to do with it.
When Edge of Darkness was released this past January, it was marketed as a return for Gibson to the action thriller genre he has always excelled at. Except the film was actually more of a slow burn thriller, much like last year's fascinating and incredibly well done State of Play, and both based off a BBC mini-series. Albeit, this film is punctuated with scenes filled with incredibly graphic violence. But that initial flub is not the only thing working against the film.
The film masquerades as being break-neck paced, and uses this as an excuse to never really develop anyone. Emma is killed off less than ten minutes after the film begins, and the film never really lets up afterwards with Craven's search for the truth about his daughter's murder. We get very little on who Craven is, outside of a few dialogue inferences and his "nothing to lose" attitude. In a way, he is very similar to Liam Neeson's absent minded character in last year's Taken, except Craven actually takes the time to talk to people and not just kill them off. We get even less on Emma, outside of seeing her as a child in home video footage that appears to be haunting Craven.
If that were not enough, the film throws multiple characters at the audience almost at random, and very few of them stick. I found it incredibly hard to keep track of at least a handful of them, because they were so similar. Outside of Ray Winstone's Jedburgh and Danny Huston's Bennett, most of the characters are of no particular significance other than to move Craven's investigation along. I imagine this issue is largely the fault of the original six-part mini-series, which had the time to bring in a plethora of characters and develop them as opposed to a two-hour film. But State of Play managed to both keep its focus for the majority of time and develop its main stable of characters fairly well. How could this film not follow suit?
The film also suffers from a fairly ridiculous third act. Getting into specifics would ruin the film, but what can be said is that it ruins everything that came before it. It betrays everything the film has going for it, and boils itself down into a rather goofy actioner. The film is never really a revenge thriller, but more of a thriller about a man trying to find out why his daughter was killed. I really enjoyed the film and its last half when I first saw it theatrically a few months ago. But watching it again at home, it almost comes off as having gone totally off the rails much too quickly. The film's penchant for hyper violence gets far too ahead of itself, and it feels almost like the filmmakers wanted to please the audience with something totally different than what the film sets up for (plus, it feels a bit too close in similarity to the ending of another of William Monahan's previous scripts).
Despite all this, the film is still great when it is playing itself as the slow burn thriller it actually is. It is taut, suspenseful, and a touch unpredictable. For its problems, I really enjoyed the conspiracy filled storyline, and really liked some of the twists it took. It did remind me a lot of State of Play, but never feels like it is trying to steal its thunder or underrated greatness. It does have moments where you are on the edge of your seat, and does have moments where it makes a genuine attempt at making you think.
But this whole film would mean nothing if it were not for Gibson. This film was his first in a significant starring role since M. Night Shyamalan's last good film, Signs. Despite having been off the scene for eight years, this does not seem to have made Gibson lose any of his intensity or gravitas. He owns the screen in every scene he is in, and brings a certain immediacy to the role. It was interesting seeing him in such a wounded and devastating role, but he plays it with such strength and ferocity that you almost forget this was a guy who once cracked jokes as a suicidal cop and helped take down the British as a legendary Scottish commoner. He is a man who knows his craft, and knows just the right amount of seriousness to bring to the role.
Although not nearly as well showcased, both Winstone and Huston pull off great performances in their underwritten roles. Both were clearly much better developed in the series (and remain rather enigmatic throughout the film), but are still equally good here despite being overshadowed by Gibson. I would have enjoyed a whole lot more emphasis on both of them than the multiple other characters thrust at the audience over the course of the film.
Edge of Darkness is not a bad film, but it is not a good enough film to hold up on multiple viewings. I really enjoyed it the first time I saw it, but I found it less entertaining and much more problematic the second time round. But watch it for the driving force of Gibson above anything else. Time away definitely helped him become a stronger performer, and I can only hope his intensity will continue to shine.
(Portions of this review originally appeared on http://www.dvdfanatic.com).
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