by Richard von Busack
Absorbing in the way that being in a bad mood is absorbing, Edge of Darkness can leave you with something like the malaise that comes with the onset of a 48-hour bug. Only a really Catholic script could have gotten the creator of the ultimate crucifixion movie back in a starring role for the first time in eight years.
Scriptwriters William Monahan and Andrew Bovell have shaped this remake of a 1985 British TV series for Gibson. There’s an inside joke about the actor/director’s knowledge of Latin, for example, and Gibson’s character, police detective Thomas Craven, sums up his moral stance: “Either you’re hanging from the cross, or you’re banging in the nails.” Where that particular either/or leaves a movie audience is a matter of debate. Craven is a bereaved dad, as well as judge, jury, executioner and bailiff, so he likes to do a bit of both hanging and hammering.
Returning from her new home, a lefty town in rural Massachusetts (“Northmoor” equals “Northampton”), the cop’s daughter, Emma (Bojana Novakovic) arrives for a visit. Emma is unwell. When her sickness grows urgent, she tries to tell her father about the real nature of her new job, but on the front porch, she’s the victim of a drive-by shooting. Damming up the pain and leaving his fellow coppers out of the loop, Craven goes on search for the killers.
The trail leads to Emma’s workplace, a sinister government-run nuclear facility on the palisades overlooking the Connecticut River. Meanwhile, the feds send out an operative of their own, Jedburgh. He is played by a sleek Ray Winstone, by miles the best thing in this movie, given urbane lines like “When someone has a national security problem, they call a number in Norfolk, Virginia. Then I decide what happens next.”
Dourer than ever, Gibson tries to fill the function of the blank detective in a vortex of weirdos. But Edge of Darkness doesn’t have enough weirdos, even though Danny Huston tries his best as the plant’s evil operator, Bennett, surrounded with grip-and-grin photos with various presidents. Bennett makes a sadistic query about Craven’s bereavement, and in the finale, he swans around in a Sulka-style dressing gown.
Up until the final shootouts, which are brisk as firecrackers, Edge of Darkness plods through its one-clue-per-scene story. The visuals are mud in your eye, and when you think that the reason Craven’s house is so brown is because he’s in a constant moral/religious crisis, we see the inside of Emma’s flat. It’s photographed the same way, and the only difference is that she has some more insouciant refrigerator magnets.
It’s not too much to ask that neo-noir should give us some bad women in tight skirts; Edge of Darkness has no women to speak of, except for two victims and one female reporter. The solution to the mystery is recorded as a video diary—as exposition, it’s the least satisfying way to solve the problem. And it’s hard to forgive the filmmakers for showing us the villain being held at gunpoint and then letting him go. The atmosphere of paranoia is politically nondenominational. With its scheming senators, sinister SUVs and Taxachussets bashing, tea baggers would love it.
Craven gives the head of some kind of eco-looney group called “Nightflower” a good old-fashioned punching out, even though the punched one headed a group that was also trying to bring the villain to rights. Not having any hope in justice whatsoever, the movie gets moony-metaphysical. This too must have attracted Gibson. During an eye exam, Jedburgh asks his doctor, “Do you see a soul in there?” We can see two of them at the end: the movie’s hell-on-Earth, heaven-in-the-next-world finale is worthy of a Christmas movie.
EDGE OF DARKNESS (R; 117 min.), directed by Martin Campbell, written by William Monahan and Andrew Bovell, photographed by Phil Meheux and starring Mel Gibson and Ray Winstone, plays valleywide.