Slight variation on a review in the Friday, Jan. 29 Oregonian....
"Edge of Darkness" feels like a movie that wants to bare its fangs, but only manages a mild gumming.
The raw ingredients for a nasty eye-poking thriller are certainly there. For one thing, "Edge" stars Mel Gibson in his first leading role in eight rough-and-tumble years. And his character -- a Boston cop grimly trying to track down the killer(s) who shotgun-blasted his daughter right in front of him -- is like a greatest-hits remix of all Gibson's obsessions as an actor and director: He's suffering, vengeful, borderline insane and furiously throwing the rulebook in a dumpster all at once. (The deep slashing lines age has carved in Gibson's face accentuate his character's woe rather nicely.)
Even better (potentially, anyway), "Edge" is a remake of a provocative, politically charged and much-loved 1985 BBC miniseries, and some of the original talent is still at the wheel. It's directed by original miniseries helmer Martin Campbell, a guy who generally employs a steady hand when it comes to genre material ("Casino Royale," "Zorro," "Goldeneye") -- and the six-hour original was boiled down to feature length by William Monahan, a man with proven remake-adaptation experience ("The Departed").
So why does the end result feel so ... compromised? And padded out? And vaguely sloppy?
The 2010 "Edge" takes the same general form as the 1985 version: Cop loses mysteriously ill daughter in gun-blast assassination, everyone thinks cop was target, cop suspects otherwise, cop is haunted by daughter's ghost, cop digs into labyrinthine/bizarre/cynical conspiracy, cop crosses paths with intelligence agent (played in 2010 by Ray Winstone) who may be friend or foe.
But the '85 original (recently released here on DVD, by the way) also went to some extreme, spiritual, politically charged places -- most notably making angry comments about nuclear proliferation while invoking cosmic notions of nature rising up against mankind. (Miniseries writer Troy Kennedy Martin, who recently passed away, infamously wrote a draft of his teleplay in which the vengeful-cop character actually turned into a tree, only to have the idea vetoed by pretty much everyone involved in the production.)
"Edge of Darkness" 2010 has little if any of that "Twin Peaks"-y weirdness, and what's there instead is frankly sort of scaled-down, pedestrian and dull. You can pick the movie apart in all sorts of small ways. For example, how can Gibson's character be standing right next to his daughter when she takes a full shotgun blast without catching some buckshot himself? And why are the police-procedural bits of the movie so shabbily plotted?
But the bigger problems are problems of script and pacing and thematics. The dialogue and characterization are remarkably flat on the page. Gibson does his best to overcome this -- the movie sparks up a bit whenever he gets enraged or creaks into action -- but he's fighting against a tide of mediocrity in which nothing coming out of anyone's mouth is particularly interesting. (When you make Ray Winstone boring, and he's playing a morally gray assassin, you have failed to a remarkable degree.)
The movie's also oddly paced, and not in an artful way. It lingers too long on redundant scenes of Gibson's grief -- the movie fades dully to black as he cradles his dying daughter, he stares into space for a while, he wakes up in a mad sweat, he rages at the coroner, he takes his daughter's ashes to the beach -- before launching into its mystery story. The bad guys are given introductory/exposition scenes that rob the film of its suspense tension and feel like studio notes, even if they aren't, and the ham-fisted placement of these villains in the film makes the movie's larger critique (of something I shouldn't spoil) feel cynical and cheap. And there's an action bit plopped into the film in which Gibson's character eludes a mysterious tail and menaces a mysterious contractor (Danny Huston) that feels arbitrary and amounts to almost nothing in terms of the larger story -- a letdown, given Campbell's usual craftsman's skill with big-screen action.
It's not all bad: The film does build to a nicely merciless ending with a few twisty shocks, for one thing. But the movie doesn't get to that ending (or earn that ending) in a compelling way. "Edge of Darkness" fails as a comeback vehicle, as a remake, and to a lesser degree as a popcorn thriller. If this is a portent of Mr. Gibson's future outings as an actor, he may want to stick to his far pricklier and more fascinatingly angry and obsessive directorial career.
Edge of Darkness (The Oregonian, Friday, Jan. 29, 2010)