February 4, 2010


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Edge of Darkness (R)
Mel Gibson gives the Boston accent a whirl and tries to unpretty himself enough to be believable as an old-school Boston police detective in Edge of Darkness, a not-great-but-not-awful airport novel of a movie.

Thomas Craven (Gibson) plays a less schmaltzy version of the Robert De Niro character from Everybody’s Fine — your stock working-class-traditional-dad character but who deeply loves his kids. In Craven’s case, “kids” means Emma (Bojana Novakovic), his twentysomething daughter who graduated from M.I.T. and has a science-nerdy job in Northampton. He nervously goes to pick her up at the train station and is delighted to see her even though she seems sick (she pukes a few times) and is herself the grumpy silent type. Once at home, Emma really starts to seem ill — puking more and getting a bloody nose. She tells her dad to get her to a doctor but as they rush out of the house, a car pulls up and a man calls “Craven” and shoots. To his shock, Thomas watches as the car drives away and his daughter lies bleeding to death.

His department shows up, all geared up for action, certain that the shooting was meant to kill Detective Craven for one of the cases he was working on. But, Craven, perhaps having seen the movie’s trailer, soon starts to suspect that the shooting may indeed have more to do with his daughter. He finds a gun hidden in the things she brought to his house, some of her friends are nervous to talk to him and a mysterious man named Jedburgh (Ray Winstone) is saying all sorts of cryptic things to Craven.

So SPOILER ALERT: not long into the movie Danny Huston shows up to play Emma’s boss at the science-nerdy facility where she works. Danny Huston doesn’t quite have a giant handlebar mustache that he twirls while he gives a “mwah ha ha ha” laugh, but the man is not good about leaving his character’s motives open to question. He always plays the guy who is at the least shadowy and creepy and often pure evil. Edge of Darkness signals just about everybody’s intentions with this same level of subtlety. You will never think “I didn’t see that coming” while watching this movie, though you might occasionally think “where did everybody’s accents go — oh, wait, there they are, oh, wait, no they’re gone again.” The sudden appearance and disappearance of that “aaaahh” sound is one of the more mysterious aspects of the movie.

Gibson, 54 years old these days, does not have to go far to shed whatever was left of his late 1980s, early 1990s Handsome Man status. He is not wholly believable as a character actor, though. There is something a little too Gibsony about him, too play-to-the-camera to push him into either the age-with-aplomb Alec Baldwin territory or the sort of Bill-Murray-ish age-into-something-new camp. Sure, we see in his performance a dad desperate for answers about the death of his daughter, but we also see the actor desperate to be something other than the butt of jokes.

If The Departed and Taken had a baby, Edge of Darkness would be that baby’s less remarkable younger sibling, the one who drops out of college to work on an unspecified artistic talent and then shows up at Thanksgiving a decade later looking to sell the aunts and uncles on an iffy-sounding time share deal. Edge of Darkness doesn’t have the punch or the gustiness of those more successful films but it approaches, at times, Taken’s relentless revenge energy and The Departed’s scrappy Boston-accented corruption-in-high-places mystery story. C+

Rated R for strong bloody violence and language. Directed by Martin Campbell and written by William Monahan and Andrew Bovell (from a BBC television series by Troy Kennedy-Martin), Edge of Darkness is an hour and 56 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Warner Bros.