(2010)3Jason BuchananMel Gibson is back on the conspiracy trail in Edge of Darkness, a slow-burning police detective thriller that favors a gradual descent into the world of corporate collusion over fist-pumping action. And although this compact reworking of the award-winning BBC series is never quite as tightly wound or intriguing as, say, State of Play (another recent BBC series-turned-film), it still manages to be a satisfying, if slightly middling, mystery punctuated with a few genuinely memorable performances.
Her life taken in the blink of an eye, Emma Craven (Bojana Novakovic) dies in her father's arms. Some dads might become consumed by their grief, but Boston detective Thomas Craven (Mel Gibson) opts for vengeance over mourning. Unconvinced of the media's claim that he was the intended target of the gunman who shot down his daughter, Detective Craven sets out to discover who would have wanted Emma dead, and why. Little does he realize that his investigation is about to take him directly into the corridors of power, where corporate giants and influential senators share the same bed, and anyone who so much as sniffs the sheets is likely to wind up floating face-down in the Charles River. And the closer that Detective Craven gets to the truth, the more frequently he encounters an enigmatic "fixer" named Jedburgh (Ray Winstone), a man whose job it is to control the flow of information, and who's just as likely to kill Craven as he is to provide the next piece of the puzzle.
Mismarketing alert! Edge of Darkness is not -- we repeat not -- the high-octane action thriller that the trailers and ubiquitous television spots make it out to be. Considering the recent success of Taken and the tenuous similarity between the two films' respective storylines, however, it's hardly surprising that the marketing masterminds at Warner Bros. tried to sell it as such. If they only took the time to consider the audience goodwill they're squandering by presenting the film as something it isn't, perhaps they'd realize that they're essentially isolating and abandoning the crowd that might really appreciate the things that director Martin Campbell's winding thriller has to offer -- a deliberately paced mystery that focuses more on character motivations and well-timed revelations than lightning-fast edits and incomprehensible action.
Even so, Edge of Darkness isn't the type of mystery that's likely to set the box office ablaze or spark any new cinematic trends; whereas State of Play felt like a neatly compacted retelling of a much larger story, this pared-down remake leaves the viewer with a sneaking suspicion that much was left on the cutting room floor, or perhaps that certain details were left out of William Monahan and Andrew Bovell's screenplay entirely, due to time constraints. Lest this review leave readers with the impression that Edge of Darkness is an unsatisfying misfire, however, it should be said that the film actually has quite a bit going for it, not the least of which being Gibson's portrayal of a devastated father whose loving memories of his late daughter fuel his relentless quest for the truth. The scenes in which Detective Craven hears his daughter's voice calmly consoling him, or dutifully scatters her ashes into the ocean while vocally answering to a replay of his memories offer a vivid and affecting depiction of parental mourning. Likewise, co-star Winstone provides Edge of Darkness with some of its finest moments. He does a spectacular job of making the audience warm to a character we're clearly meant to fear, and his quiet scenes with Gibson are some of the best in the film. Watching Detective Craven and Jedburgh interact, one gets the distinct impression that Winstone's character might have responded to the situation he's faced with much differently at any other point in his life or career, and it's that kind of seductive ambiguity that keeps the audience involved in the story.
Achieving that ideal balance between mystery and thrills presents a sizable challenge for any filmmaker crafting a conspiracy-centric police detective film -- even for the man who helped the world's greatest secret agent get back on his feet at a point when many felt the James Bond franchise was floundering. Edge of Darkness certainly has its fair share of flaws (memo to Danny Huston: the bad guy schtick is getting a bit predictable), but for those in search of a mature mystery told in a more restrained, old-school style, this meditative, labyrinthine journey into the abyss may be just what you've been waiting for.