‘Edge of Darkness’ movie review: Mel Gibson in gripping drama

In Edge of Darkness, director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) returns to familiar ground: his well-regarded, if mostly forgotten (in the US, at least, where it was rarely shown in the first place), 1985 BBC miniseries. 

In this remake, the environmental and (for lack of a better word) supernatural elements have been toned down, the violence amped up, and 300+ minutes of story have been condensed to 120; it doesn’t rate highly next to the original, but it’s good enough on its own terms.

Mel Gibson stars as Thomas Craven, a Boston policeman whose estranged daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) comes home from her work for a shady corporation in the Berkshires. But all isn’t right: she seems sick, and just as she’s about to tell her father something important she vomits on the kitchen table and asks to be taken to the doctor. On their way out the front door, a masked gunman screams “Craven!” and fires a shotgun into Emma’s chest.

The police – Craven’s friends and colleagues – suspect the shot was intended for Thomas, not his daughter. But he knows better, and – after the requisite mourning period, in which he asks to be left on the case – he sets out to find out more about his daughter. 

A handgun along with her belongings is the first clue (in the original series, Craven – played by Bob Peck – finds and kisses his daughter’s dildo in this scene; expectedly, the uncomfortably intimate father-daughter subplot has been excised here).

Craven’s investigation leads him to his daughter’s boyfriend (Shawn Roberts), Northmoor – the corporation she worked for, it’s slimy head Jack Bennett (Danny Huston), hired goons in black suits, a potentially corrupt Senator (Damian Young), and an environmental organization that may have been trying to expose wrongdoings at the company.

And there in the shadows is Jedburgh (Ray Winstone), a mysterious figure who is working for a government organization trying to clean up the mess. He operates in a grey zone, his motives and allegiances unknown to us and Craven and maybe Jedburgh himself. 

Jedburgh was played by Joe Don Baker (a favorite whipping boy on Mystery Science Theater 3000) in the original, who gave a truly memorable performance; there he was the American good ol’ boy operating in England, where the nationalities are reversed and the effect muted.

A cathartic ending (not dissimilar to the one in The Departed, also scripted by William Monahan) is fitting, but I can’t help but feel the bar has been raised for these Death Wish revenge dramas (particularly due to films like Man on Fire). No longer are we satisfied when the villain is simply killed, now we want to see them really suffer.

Edge of Darkness is exceptionally well-cast, right down the line: Danny Huston is the go-to villain these days, but backing him up is some really great work by Young as the Senator and Denis O’Hare and David Aaron Baker as government agents. Even the head goon, played by Frank Grillo, is memorable, in the Frank Nitti/The Untouchables vein.

Mild annoyance: Gibson’s thick Bostonian brogue. It’s just laid on too thick: Gibson is (was?) a “movie star” who draws an audience by playing the same (or a similar) character in film after film; to hear him speak as we’ve never heard him speak before – no matter how “good” the accent may be – is distracting, at least initially. 

See also: Leonardo DiCaprio in Shutter Island, opening next week. And yet I’d complain if they didn’t attempt an accent, like Tom Cruise in Valkyrie. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

One more annoyance: a subplot with Robinson Jr., the head of the environmental organization, ends almost as soon as it begins, with no resolution; we’re simply missing a scene here, which must’ve ended up on the cutting room floor, noticeably absent.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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