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Edge of Darkness

While promoting this, his first film as an actor in seven years, Mel Gibson told a reporter that he no longer employs bodyguards to protect himself, his girlfriend, and their infant daughter. Instead, he has a gun and if need be will provide for his own defense.

That certainly makes him apt to play the lead role in Edge of Darkness, a movie whose motto could have been “There’s no problem you can’t solve with a gun.”

In other words, if you were expecting Gibson’s comeback after years of (depending on which account you believe) self-imposed inactivity or inability to get work after his drunken encounter with a pair of LA’s finest to display a more thoughtful, serious, and mature Mel, well, not this time. It’s strictly playing to the base, fans for whom Lethal Weapon, Ransom, and Payback count among the greatest non-John Wayne movies ever made.

Gibson plays Tom Craven, a widowed Boston police detective. His only remaining family is his daughter, Emma (Bojana Novakovic), an MIT graduate whom he hasn’t seen much of since she took a job with Northmoor, a private research compound. He’s hoping to make up time with her on a rare visit home, plans that come to an end when she is shot to death outside their house.

Craven is forbidden from investigating the case, which of course means that he conducts his own unofficial investigation. Indications that he was the gunman’s real target are rapidly laid to rest as Craven discovers that Emma had learned of nuclear improprieties where she worked. Any doubts that Northmoor is up to no good are dispelled when Craven meets Jack Bennett, the reptilian businessman behind the facility.

Bennett is played by Danny Huston, son of John, with a hint of Noah Cross, his father’s character from Chinatown. He explains all the wonderful things that Northmoor is up to in such sinisterly dulcet tones that make you want to slap the smirk off his face even before he concludes the interview with a staggeringly inappropriate question to the bereaved Craven.

Craven digs in and learns that Northmoor is a business too well protected to be brought down. A government operative (Ray Winstone) is tasked to spread confusion until Bennett’s ill-considered actions are forgotten, as well as to keep him from making things worse by killing more of those he considers to be threats. Craven, on the other hand, finds that nothing clears away the fog like a loaded hand gun.

If you find the lack of subtlety in a movie like this to be unsurprising, you probably don’t remember the 1985 BBC miniseries on which it was based. (They share the same director, Martin Campbell, who in the interim made some successful James Bond films and overheated nonsense like Defenseless and Criminal Law) The two start out similarly, with a detective (in that case a stoic Yorkshireman played by Bob Peck) traumatized by the death of his daughter. But rather than try to adapt and condense the original’s tangled web of industrial, governmental, political and international threads converging on a deadly nuclear facility, the new movie keeps only the general premise of a nuclear villain for a more limited (and much less satisfying) revenge thriller.

The script was written by Andrew Bovell (Lantana) and then re-written by William Monahan, who won an Academy Award for adapting the Japanese thriller Infernal Affairs into The Departed. Edge of Darkness resembles that film much more than its British inspiration, at least in surface details: everyone dons a thick working-class Boston accent, and lots of people are shot in the face. But the plot falls apart as the film progresses and the bodies pile up, as if the filmmakers became consumed by the bloodlust they were depicting.

Looking more than seven years older since his last film (which was another lamentable adaptation of a cherished 1980s British miniseries, The Singing Detective), the craggy Gibson can still play obsessive but does so here without the touch of mad humor that used to animate his performances. His Boston accent is distracting, and he often seems to be channelling Robert DeNiro. Perhaps that’s his little joke: DeNiro was originally cast to play the Winstone role, but departed the project after a days filming, according to some rumors because he and Gibson didn’t get along.

Edge of Darkness is an implausible, garishly violent thriller that will probably make a lot of money and reestablish Gibson as a box office draw. If he can keep out of trouble, I’ll be looking forward to his next film, The Beaver, the story of a man who believes that the beaver handpuppet he wears all the time is real. Now in post-production, it was directed by Jodie Foster (of all people to be working with Gibson!), and I can only hope that it’s half as weird as it sounds

Watch the trailer for Edge of Darkness

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