Back from the dark

Mel Gibson returns to form in revenge thriller

Love and vengeance and blood and explosions and Mel’s crazy face.

Love and vengeance and blood and explosions and Mel’s crazy face.

Edge of Darkness
Starring Mel Gibson and Ray Winstone. Directed by Martin Campbell. Feather River Cinemas, Paradise Cinema 7 and Tinseltown. Rated R.
Rated 4.0

Having not seen the 1985 British miniseries that Mel Gibson’s new revenger is based on, I’m definitely tempted to track it down (it has been just released on DVD, so not that big of a chore). As it is, Martin “Casino Royale” Campbell’s second shot at directing the piece does have the CliffsNotes feel of a bigger story, but surprisingly enough delivers the goods as is.

The story follows the basic template made popular by the Death Wish franchise and followed by all the knockoffs: the second coming of Mel Gibson is a Boston cop nearing retirement made all giddy by the visitation of his estranged daughter. After making nice for a few moments, she’s blown out of her motorcycle boots by some masked gunman who everyone initially assumes was gunning for her old man—being a cop and all that, y’know? But of course there’s a bigger conspiracy at work, and Gibson gets down with being the mad ol’ self on which he built his reputation. Onscreen and off.

Seeing that Gibson likes his conspiracy theories, it’ll be no surprise that the corruption stinks all the way to the top, although how far to the top is mostly implied through a trophy photo of the main bad guy laughing it up with Dick Cheney.

Edge of Darkness is at its best when it doesn’t pander to the audience and explain every detail in slow, simple words; the standard Narrative for Dummies Hollywood has taken to over the last decade.

It’s also refreshing that it eschews the Bourne-again style of editing and camerawork that makes it feel like you’re watching a movie at a rave. Campbell puts his setting on slow burn and allows the story to set the pace, not the pyrotechnics. No shaky-cam here. We do get the occasional explosion and jets of arterial blood, because this is a Gibson movie after all. But when they come, they seem to have more impact in comparison. Even the hoary ol’ chestnuts of the genre seem a little fresher in context.

But what makes the piece work better than most of its kin is the emphasis on the grief that drives Gibson’s character. In pretty much every other example of the genre, the murdered lover/daughter/partner exists in the opening frames solely to impel the protag to get his/her vengeance on, and is never acknowledged again for the rest of the film. (Well, aside for the obligatory third-act graveside visit to remind the viewer what all the bloodletting was about.)

Here, Gibson is both literally and figuratively haunted by his daughter. It shouldn’t work (and probably wouldn’t in the hands of anyone else but Campbell and Gibson), but it does. It also sets up a coda that is surprisingly (for the genre) affecting. This is the kind of thing that Gibson does best, and this is some of the best that he’s delivered in years. It’s nice to have him back (and if you have issues with that, go off and dance to your Michael Jackson collection instead).