Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 01, 2010 6:40 pm 
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Mel Gibson steps away from the director's chair and takes up a pistol again

Mel Gibson's hair and rage are in immaculate control in this new movie and his acting has deepened enough to mostly hold together an intense story that blends just a few too many elements. The latter is understandable, because Edge of Darkness is a mash-up of a much-praised and much longer work, a 1985 six-part political eco-thriller of the same name shown repeatedly on the BBC. It was full of sinister government and corporate cover-ups and ruthless exploiters of the people and the environment. Martin Campbell directed both versions, and this one keeps your attention even if something has been lost in translation, notably a more leisurely exploration of the complexities and what the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw calls the "spiritual, Gaia-is-angry mysticism" of the original. Maybe that sounds airy-fairy to some, but it would have made this movie seem less boilerplate, a quality not lessened by the involvement of William Moynahan, who Boston-ized the original HongKong setting of The Departed.

This new condensed version is primarily a vehicle for the controlled explosiveness of Mr. Gibson. Campbell has declared in an interview that he always mainly liked "the emotional story, from the original, of Craven losing his daughter," and claimed "the political story didn't really interest me anymore." So that's what we get: Edge of Darkness has been trimmed down to concentrate on a few main characters -- Thomas Craven (Gibson), a Boston homicide cop whose daughter gets gunned down beside him in the front hall of their house in the first ten minutes of the movie; and the various nasties he unearths, notably Bennett (Danny Huston), the oily corporate CEO of a most sinister firm called Northmoor; a suave and condescending senator (Damian Young); and Jedburgh, an ambiguous fixer-foil played by Ray Winstone, who slows down the rush a bit with stage business -- showing off his Cockney accent, popping pills, offering and consuming wine, liquor, and expensive cigars.

At first it looks to the police department and the newscasters like somebody meant to kill Craven and only shot his daughter by mistake. But Craven can't think of any logical enemies and soon learns from his daughter's boyfriend Burnham (Shawn Roberts) that he and Emma were in big trouble with Northmoor, where they both worked, for whistle-blowing tendencies. With nothing to lose, Craven goes out on his own to find the killers and the story spins out to malevolent powers-that-be. While losing politics and atmosphere, the movie still manages to cram six hours of violence into its 117 minutes.

Craven keeps his own council, except for talking to his deceased daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic), who's sometimes invisible and sometimes appears to him as a sweet little girl (Gabrielle Popa). This slightly annoying fantasy element persists, without the original's green mysticism, which James Cameron spent $500 million promoting in Avatar. This omission and the general upping of the violence-per-square-inch factor cause the movie to take on more of a conventional angry-cop-on-the-rampage-to-avenge-his-daughter trajectory. Maybe Campbell's memories of directing Casino Royale explains the way the ├╝ber-nasty Bennett and his vast, glass-encased corporate headquarters take on the fantasy grandeur of a James Bond thriller. All the Wicked Ones have a somewhat comic-book luridness. Meanwhile, as mentioned, all but a few vague hints of the eco-warrior element, as reported by Bradshaw, have gone out the window.

We learn that Emma, an MIT grad, got involved with an eco-activist group called Nightflower when she found out Northmoor was manufacturing illegal nuclear weapons. Actually -- in a clear Moynahan interpolation -- there's some joking around about how "everything's illegal" in Massachusetts, including the manufacture of any weapons, not to mention quite cynical and sinister ones. References to "dirty bombs" (now discredited) suggests the research for this update wasn't profound, but on the other hand the introduction as a key player in the game of DARPA (Defense Advanded Research Project Agency), a little known government agency created to maintain the superiority of US weaponry, adds a more realistic note.

This is an updated cop movie whose background has been rendered generically. It's very watchable and can be enjoyed, except for the lingering suspicion that it might have been much better if it had real characters and were allowed to stop for breath more often. One's time might be spent better, however, by adding the original Edge of Darkness series, starring Bob Peck, to one's Netflix queue. This seems as good a time as any to revisit the resentments and paranoia of England under Thatcher. This new version packs a momentary wallop -- though his face is deeply lined now, Gibson still has the Mad Max cowboy in him -- but, as Anthony Lane says, it "has little afterglow."

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