The movie opens like a fairy tale. A full moon over lovely treetops shines like a silvery wand. Then three dead bodies float to the surface and the spell is broken. Edge of Darkness is not going to be a magical movie but it certainly is going to have its dark and deadly surprises.
Det. Thomas Craven (Mel Gibson, now age 54) is a no-nonsense Boston PD Homicide Detective. For many years, either through death or divorce, we’re not sure, he was a single parent. The light of his life, in fact the only touchstone to decent humanity he really has, is his 20-something daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic). She’s a recent graduate of MIT, nuclear science, and holds a low-level entry position in a secretive mega corporation named Northmoor. When she comes home for a rare visit with Dad, they are both horrified at how violently ill she becomes.
While Craven rushes Emma out the door to go to the hospital, someone calls out “Craven!” and Emma is gunned down. Grief-stricken, Craven, like everyone else, thinks the bullets were meant for him, as a cop who was known for putting away his share of bad guys. But then, step by step, in a wonderfully suspenseful tale of secrets, fear, corruption and moral ambiguity, Craven comes to accept that it was Emma, not he, who was indeed the assassin’s target.
Why was she killed? And who did it? And can he himself survive his investigation, that leaves crippled and dead bodies everywhere in its wake?
You have to pay attention to Edge of Darkness. Based on a 5-hour British TV series, that’s been compacted into two hours, there’s a lot of info to filter in this film. Don’t worry if you miss a couple clues though. All the male suit guys are bad, private sector and government. And the cops aren’t much better, especially a Judas caricature who is really creepy. Craven is a one-man good guy band playing all the notes and searching for clues all by himself. .
As the man who “has nothing to lose,” Gibson turns in a raw and amazingly sympathetic performance. Balancing him in a wondrous, sinister pas de deux is a CIA cleanup guy, Jedburgh, played with reptilian dignity by Ray Winstone. He speaks in an intriguing, mocking British accent that sometimes seems deliberately muffled– don’t worry, you might miss a few lines but the intent is always clear. Jedburgh is a guy bad guys should be afraid of and good guys shouldn’t really trust too much. It seems on his many assignments in the corridors of corruption in the United States, Jedburgh has come to believe that “this is a country of people who deserve better.” Once a man of limpid conscience, he decides that maybe a man like Craven should be given free reign instead of garrote. That decision bodes well not only for Craven but for the audience who gets to see a lot more of both these fine actors.
The script (by Departed scribe, William Monahan) is literate and suspenseful, the action is white-knuckle, the streets and highways of Boston are always drenched with rain but they never seem cleansed. Director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale), who also directed the longer TV series seems just as fond of the small human touch (such as in the sweet flashbacks to Emma’s childhood), as he is of violence, both planned and random. The near to last scene is particularly tops in the thriller category — it’s violent twist after violent twist after violent twist. The very final scene, which some might think oddly out of sync, actually seems quite fitting in light of Mel Gibson’s known Catholic perspective–the avenging angel took his body count and finds himself blessed. A sentiment I don’t agree with but it looks good in a movie.
There’s one element in particular that I liked in Edge of Darkness and feel it should be noted. So many times in a movie, the dead bodies are faceless and nameless, just bloodied up extras used to swell the ranks of the corpses. But in Edge of Darkness, many of the victims have families who grieve, who were affected by the deaths of loved ones as it would happen in real life. Mel Gibson, especially, portrays a man who feels real grief. His rage and disbelief, his fantasies, his terrible longing for things to be different, were heart-breakingly real. Welcome back, Mel.