Friday, August 13, 2010

Edge of Darkness

Oh boy!  Looks like it's time for another aging man to take the law into his own hands when bad guys attack his family (see Death Wish, Taken, or Death Sentence for other examples).  Honestly, I am all about revenge as a plot device.  It leads to tough guys being bad-ass and bad guys getting hurt in creative ways.  What's not to like?  Oh, you want character development or subtlety?  Read a book.

Edge of Darkness is the American film version of the classic British television series of the same name.  Boston detective Thomas Craven (Mel Gibson) has just brought his adult daughter (Bojana Novakovic) to his home, from the train station, when she gets sick.  They prepare to rush to the hospital, but when they are on the front stoop of Craven's home, a masked man shouts "Craven!" and shoots...but the daughter Craven gets hit instead of Thomas.  And boy, does she get hit!  Wow.  Yeah, it was a shotgun, but that scene was pretty brutal.  Obviously, the police (and Thomas) work under the assumption that the killer was aiming for Thomas and the daughter was an accidental hit.  At least, that was Craven's assumption, until he discovered that his daughter was radioactive.

Huh?  Radioactive?  Really?  Excuse me, how can radioactivity fit into my can't-miss revenge movie formula?  It can't?  Crap.

Yes, Craven's daughter was radioactive and that's why she was sick.  Now, I think we all know that you don't just accidentally get radiation poisoning (unless you're making the film adaptation of XXX-Ray Love: The Marie and Pierre Curie Story).  There's always some evil corporation and/or government behind it.  Such is the case here.  Jack Bennett (Danny Huston) is in charge of the evil corporation, which has strong ties to the government.  The ties are so strong, in fact, that they receive help from the government, in the form of CIA operative Darius Jedburgh (Ray Winstone).  Darius is the guy you send in to cover things up when you don't care how many bodies pile up, as long as the job gets done.

As soon as Craven realizes that his daughter was practically glowing in the dark, he stops acting as a police officer.  He takes evidence from her apartment and burns it, in case it incriminated her as an environmental activist.  Darius decides to pay Craven a visit at this time; he probably should kill Craven, especially since he's a detective that is clearly veering from the law.  This should be the end of the movie.  But, Darius likes the cut of Craven's jib, apparently, and encourages Craven to do whatever he has to do, by any means necessary.  The second half of the film has Craven doing just that.

I didn't think you could make a revenge movie overcomplicated, but director Martin Campbell made it happen.  I just don't understand it.  If this movie had just made the daughter an innocent victim, then Craven would have had to pummel his way through the undoubtedly enormous backlog of thugs that he sent to prison.  That would have been awesome.

Instead, he "detects" his way around and finds all the answers, nice and neat, relatively quickly and painlessly (aside from his daughter and a few other peripheral characters dying).  There is a convoluted cover-up in place, but he has little difficulty getting past it.  And I love that there is a corporation at fault, but Craven finds only one guy to blame.  And he's right!  There is only one person responsible for a radiation-tinged conspiracy.  Do you know how evil you have to be to pull that off?  Skeletor-level evil.  Let's just pretend that corporations occasionally have one evil master that murders innocents in outlandish ways and has the government's help in covering it all up.  If I accept that, I find it incredibly hard to swallow that nobody pulls a grassy knoll on Craven's noggin.

And another thing...who is Craven's boss, Mr. Burns?  Craven says that he's not taking a leave of absence after his daughter dies.  Fine.  He then stops by the police station one more time before ignoring it for the rest of the film.  The police even call him with updates on his daughter's case, but nobody calls and asks if he's running late, or maybe to ask if he's decided to take that leave?  I want that job, right now.  Minus the whole thing with my daughter's blood splatter-painting my front door.

This movie frustrates me because it has a lot of potential.  Martin Campbell is a good action director (he's directed two good Bond movies) and the cast is decent.  Mel Gibson hasn't made a movie in years, but he gets to be a tough guy, which is something he's always been good at.  Ray Winstone takes a role that could be played as disinterested or tired and gives his character some depth; he doesn't demand much of the spotlight, but I appreciated his performance.  The rest of the supporting cast is unspectacular, but not bad.  Jay O. Sanders is decent as Craven's cop buddy, Shawn Roberts does the best he can with a dumb character, and Bojana Novakovic looks somewhat pretty in her limited screen time.  I was majorly disappointed by Danny Huston as the evil corporate head.  It's not just that his character is one-dimensional, or that he would have been less ridiculous if he had tied Craven's daughter to railroad tracks to kill her.  My problem is that  Huston plays this unlikable character as completely unlikable.  There's no wicked charm, or smart remarks.  He's just a douche and you want him to die.

Even with the goofiness of the plot, this is still a decently entertaining movie.  Gibson and Winstone are in fine form, and they make up a good portion of the movie.  This definitely is an underwhelming return to the screen for Gibson, but it's far from his worst work.  It's too bad, really, given what this movie could have been.  Still, if you like seeing old men beat up and kill jerks, then this movie has something to offer.

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