Edge of Darkness
Martin Campbell is one of the most reliable action-thriller directors working today. He revitalized the James Bond franchise twice, by making two of the best movies in the series. (Yes, I said GoldenEye is one of the best, and I mean it.) His work on Casino Royale especially was fantastic, delivering both spectacular action scenes and affecting dramatic material with equal finesse. And his latest film stars Mel Gibson returning to the screen, in a revenge-thriller-hero role that he seems perfectly suited for, and is also based on a highly-regarded BBC TV miniseries that Campbell himself directed 25 years ago. All of which should've made this a pretty damn good movie.
I'm not entirely sure what went wrong.
Thomas Craven (Mel Gibson) is a Boston police detective who dotes on his daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic). When she comes home for a visit, she falls violently ill - but before they can get to a doctor, she is murdered by a shotgun-wielding assassin. The police think Craven was the intended target, but the grieving father conducts his own investigation and begins to suspect that her employers - the mysterious Northmoor corporation, headed by Emma's boss Bennett (Danny Huston) - may be involved. As he delves further, he is contacted by the shady operative Jedburgh (Ray Winstone), who confirms his suspicions: wicked things are going on at Northmoor, and powerful people are willing to kill to cover them up.
Having watched and reviewed over a hundred films, I can usually tell in the first half hour whether or not a particular movie's gonna suck. The quality of the acting, writing and directing is in evidence by then, as is the overall tone of the movie. But during Edge of Darkness, it was well about halfway into it before I realized that this film isn't doing what it's supposed to. It's just not coming together as a thriller and an engaging story, despite solid work in the acting, writing and directing departments...
...okay, maybe not the writing. I'm gonna lay the blame on William Monahan's and Andrew Bovell's screenplay. It's never very clear exactly how Craven plans to avenge his daughter; sometimes you think he's gathering evidence and building a case, then another time you hear him grimly say he doesn't intend to make any arrests. One minute he's having a tense-but-polite meeting with Bennett, the next he's flagging down the guy's car and putting a gun to his face, and you just don't know how he got from "this guy knows something he's not telling me" to "this guy murdered my daughter, I'm sure of it." The plot is severely lacking in this kind of connective tissue.
This is a fatal flaw for an action-thriller. There's no narrative momentum, no dramatic tension, no sense that what's happening is the consequence of what happened before. All we get is one setpiece after another, and they're all really just standard-issue thriller elements: Craven meets people who knew his daughter and are now afraid for their lives, Craven is tailed by shadowy types in a black SUV, Craven is fed information by reluctant inside man Jedburgh, Craven kicks ass, etc.
But the saving grace is, they're all very well-done setpieces. And setpieces are what Martin Campbell is good at; it's all very effectively thrilling and suspenseful, which is probably what kept me distracted from the script problems for so long. He even handles the quiet emotional scenes where Craven remembers - and possibly hallucinates - his daughter's presence quite well. Seriously, Campbell is a very good director, but sometimes he can really lose sight of the big picture in favour of each individual scene. I still haven't forgiven him for Vertical Limit, a very well-directed action thriller with an incredibly moronic plot.
Besides the action-thriller bits, it's the acting that also keeps the movie watchable. This may be familiar territory for Mel Gibson, but he dials it down here; this is not the suicidal Martin Riggs of Lethal Weapon nor the vicious badass Porter of Payback. He makes Craven seem like a man not used to kicking ass and taking names, but driven to do so by grief and loss. The other acting standout is Ray Winstone; he gives the sinister "fixer" Jedburgh a humanity that I wished I'd seen more of. Danny Huston has had plenty of experience playing smug, oily villains. Bojana Novakovic is very cute.
It's a curious beast, this movie. On the surface it's a decent thriller; the audience I saw it with was gasping and ooh-ing at all the right moments. But underneath, what makes a story really work simply isn't there. So I'm giving it three stars, which means you'll probably enjoy it if you're not as picky about movies as I am. (Me, it's my job to be picky.) Still, considering its pedigree, Edge of Darkness should've been much, much better than a film in which the whole is considerably less than the sum of its parts.
NEXT REVIEW: V3: Samseng Jalanan
Expectations: snark mode activate!