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FILM: Edge of Darkness

Written by Marcus Campbell on February 2, 2010

Edge of Darkness
Directed by Martin Campbell
Starring Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston

There have been many films over recent years that have played on our anxieties about the growth of corporate power. The familiar image of unhindered private enterprise as that veiled, shadowy, all-powerful and all-corrupting entity, serves as the ideal premise for a lone detective-figure to stand apart and appear as the last honourable man left to give a damn. Some of the films have been good (State of Play), some have been tolerable (The Internationalist), and some have been terrible (Max Payne). And while they don’t match up to the classics of noir/detective fiction, together they make an interesting comment on one of the biggest fears of our time in much the same way as the classics once did. Now at last we have the first great detective film to come out of this untrusting generation, while a struggling star actor returns to his roots to turn in a convincing performance.

Mel Gibson plays Boston homicide detective Thomas Craven in his first acting role in eight years. A veteran of expensive, brawn-over-brains action flicks, he doesn’t feel like that star of blockbuster action films anymore, perhaps now a few steps closer to being a part of that old guard of noir anti-heroes like Bogart, Burt Lancaster or Glen Ford. His age and history make him the perfect choice to slide right into that grey raincoat, sour his face and spit out a thick Boston accent. Typical of the genre conventions that Edge of Darkness well and truly follows, Gibson keeps his emotions to a hollow intensity of a man who has nothing left to lose and is leaning comfortably towards self destruction. A man so alienated and alone is right where you want a flawless performance from a familiar face and Gibson delivers in every aspect.

The story of the Edge of Darkness is certainly nothing new as was mentioned earlier but with films such as this the story really isn’t the point. The point is the journey and the focus on the protagonist’s vision of the world he inhabits. Craven lives alone and his only daughter Emma returns home out of the blue to visit him. She is brutally murdered while standing next to him, the masked killer calling out “Craven” before pulling the trigger, leading the police to think that it was a mistake. Craven knows better and begins to investigate the highly classified security firm ‘Northmoor’, where Emma worked as an environmental scientist. Her shady and uncooperative boss Jack Bennet is played by the greatly underrated bad guy Danny Huston (30 Days of Night, The Proposition) who flawlessly represents the uncaring face of corporate greed and self-importance. Englishman Ray Winstone (The Departed, The Proposition) is ‘Jedburgh’, a mysterious security consultant who is long past his prime and patience with the state of the world that his dishonest clients have created. His philosophical conversations with Craven are filled with literary referencing and classified code-talk that helps to create a sense of confusion for our protagonist and the audience and when clarity finally comes it allows the film to be able to say more about the state of the world than it’s other, weaker contemporaries.

The film however, with all its wider meanings is still a very personal film and will probably be remembered firstly as a hardboiled revenge story. From the moment Emma is killed, Craven begins to have hallucinations and flashbacks of his daughter that aren’t designed to enrage but to sadden the audience. The further Craven looks into his daughter’s death, the more he comes to realise there is barely an innocent soul left in his world and the heartbreak is etched on his face for the entire length of his journey. Some subtle noir iconography helps to emphasise this dark atmosphere; especially taking cues and themes from Robert Aldrich’s 1955 classic film Kiss Me Deadly, with its silhouetted bad-guys, constant rain, cold war nuclear paranoia and terror in the hearts of everyone that knows anything about the secret the detective is pursuing. Several lines are taken straight from said film completely unaltered, but who ever said you can’t steal from the classics?

Director Martin Campbell should be praised for the restraint he exhibits in his approach to The Edge of Darkness. The man credited for reviving the ailing Bond franchise twice (Casino Royale and Goldeneye), uses violence and action economically, suiting the traditional approach to a good mystery film while still keeping the hardboiled-hard. His vision of a broken man at the ends of this strength, stumbling towards the truth and his inevitable doom while other men betray him or choose to look away from horrifying injustice is both moving and exhilarating. The loudest statement of The Edge of Darkness is made through a powerful demonstration of what true activism is. And while it’s not exactly something everyone will follow, it is gripping to witness it on the big screen. Mel Gibson is truly at the top of his often precarious game and those who can look past the weird religious personal life will be rewarded for giving this a chance.

You will love this if: Detective fiction with a soul, delivered by one of the better Bond directors sounds like your kind of thing.

You will hate this if: You’re too hung up on Mel’s bizarre off-screen activities to see a fine performance of a great character.

Edge of Darkness is released February 4th. Expect a wide release.

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