Edge of Darkness

Edge of Darkness (2010): United States/United Kingdom – directed by Martin Campbell

Rated R by the MPAA – contains violence, blood, some gore, and bad language

The pain and sorrow associated with losing a child has long been exploited in cinema.  Only slightly newer is the accompanying anger and revenge that a wronged father seeks to inflict on the bad guys.  This theme taps into a primal emotion; protecting one’s family is the ultimate good and is unquestionable.  If a man’s family is hurt or threatened, nothing that he does to ensure that the villains receive justice will be questioned.  This is why an audience cheers when the hero shoots someone in the face.

It has been quite some time since Mel Gibson has starred in a film (2002’s Signs), and even longer since the world has had a chance to see him shooting bad guys.  Here he’s back, tracking down people in a decidedly vengeful manner reminiscent of the type of action film popular back in the 1970’s.

Gibson plays Detective Craven, a member of the Boston Police Department.  He’s a bit of a loner, has few friends and even fewer family members.  His daughter, Emma (Bojana Novakovic), means the world to him, even if they don’t communicate much.  As the film opens Emma comes home for a visit, much to Craven’s delight.

She starts talking about her work and her boyfriend, but it soon becomes clear that something isn’t quite right.  When she starts coughing up blood Craven gets ready to rush her to the hospital, but the trip is never completed.  As they open the door a shotgun blast rips her apart, leaving her to die in her father’s arms.

The police department believes that someone is after Craven, perhaps someone with a grudge from one of his previous cases.  Craven himself isn’t convinced, especially when he manages to track down her boyfriend.  A mysterious Englishman (Ray Winstone) shows up in his backyard spouting vague warnings.  Craven starts to wonder if he might be telling the truth.

As he digs deeper into Emma’s death the truth becomes more convoluted and difficult to discern.  He tracks down a variety of people, including the president (Danny Huston) of the company for which Emma worked.  Craven soon realizes that he is in over his head, but he never wavers in his determination to uncover the person or persons responsible for his daughter’s death.

Edge of Darkness begins as a standard revenge thriller, and it is painfully obvious that it will end with Mel blowing some people away.  As the plot unfolds the film starts to lose its way, veering into the corporate-thriller/espionage conspiracy theory genre.  It eventually decides that it is indeed a revenge film, and from that point on there is little doubt where the heart of the movie lies.  Nothing in the plot is unconventional or surprising; the film plays out exactly as one would expect.  That’s not to say that there aren’t some surprises along the way, as some of the more violent moments are shockingly sudden.

The film mostly works.  It has a decidedly New England atmosphere, much like Gone Baby Gone or Mystic River.  The cops are tough and gritty, and Gibson’s Boston accent isn’t too distracting.  The action is handily directed, which is hardly surprising given that Martin Campbell has previously made some well-regarded Bond films, GoldenEye and Casino Royale.  Some of the scenes, particularly emotional moments involving Craven reminiscing about his daughter, come off as forced and rather fake.

Edge of Darkness is the type of movie a lot of people could despise.  The plot is a bit contrived and conventional, the characters are certainly not new or original (though Winstone does his best to elevate his enigmatic Englishman), and some of the dialogue is a bit cheesy.  It is also the type of movie that gets audiences audibly cheering in the theater; everyone wants to see Mel Gibson exact justice on those who have wronged his family.  Overall the film is technically proficient enough to be immersive, and I admit I enjoyed it.  As something of a guilty pleasure, especially for fans of action/revenge films, Edge of Darkness succeeds admirably.  Those looking for classic cinema, something new, or a complex and intelligent plot and characters might do better looking elsewhere.

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