By Stephanie Zacharek
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"Did you shoot my daughtah?" is the question posed, in flat-voweled Bostonian, in the trailer for Edge of Darkness. And Mel Gibson, bereaved and vengeful, from Hamlet to Ransom to Revolutionary America, sets out to settle another score.
Gibson is Thomas Craven: veteran, homicide detective, lonesome widower. His daughter, a post-grad intern at a research and development firm in the Berkshires, is visiting home when somebody fires a gun in front of his house. Craven, left lonelier, wants to find out who, the first link in a long line of who's and why's that leads him up the food chain. The investigation of what's supposedly an open-and-shut botched payback killing by an old collar opens into something much bigger, revealing a sweaty commingling of private and public sectors.
Director Martin Campbell, most famous for James Bond relaunches, is revisiting old material — as a hot-handed U.K. TV director, he shot the original six-part, six-hour cult-classic 1985 miniseries from a Troy Kennedy Martin script. For the film, mysteries unspool more quickly, while peripheral characters have disappeared.
What's left is propulsive and streamlined, with Craven more single-mindedly focused on finding and damning the guilty. This Edge is a vigilante movie. Which isn't to say it's simply a downgrade from Anglo sophistication to Hollywood slam-bang. Given the film's focus on bereavement — it is literally haunted by the dead — bodies drop with actual weight here. And the culmination is that rare shootout that can truly be called cathartic.
Kennedy Martin's Darkness unfolded in the shadows of Cold War espionage and the upped-ante arms race of the Reagan-Thatcher era. The 2010 incarnation is still political: Danny Huston's man-behind-the-curtain CEO disguises his rogue dealings in "jihadist dirty bombs" as experiments in clean, green energy. He has pictures shaking hands with Bush II and Nancy Pelosi and, in what would've seemed a sci-fi touch a year ago, one of the implicated parties signing off on his private "security fiefdom" is a Republican senator from Massachusetts.
Some of the off-the-record Corridors of Power stuff is well-done but the scenes feel haphazardly placed, not quite of the same movie as the Gibson revenge flick. Ray Winstone's Jedburgh, a bon viveur government troubleshooter with ambiguous loyalties, who consults on and monitors Craven's investigation is never quite integrated either. The 1985 Jedburgh was a CIA good ol' boy in London — and while it's fun to watch Winstone and Gibson trying to out-heavy one another, the trans-Atlantic role-reversal doesn't quite work; most Americans in 2010 don't fear the crown in the way the average Briton of '85 was concerned about American influence.
Gibson has been absent from the American screen since 2004. He's squandered his industry clout with risks both planned (The Passion of the Christ) and, assumedly, not (the passion for conspiracy theory). One wonders if off-screen events have made it impossible for audiences to swallow him as a character.
Yet Gibson still knows what he does best, as a star should, and creates tension just from never letting the tears poised in his eyes fall. Onscreen much of the time, thicker and more creased than you remember, he can make this rather unshapely movie seem taut.
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