Moviegoers off to see the new Mel Gibson movie Edge of Darkness, a compressed two-hour version of the six-hour 1985 British TV miniseries, are likely to be doing so because their man Mel is back on the edge, on the boil and on the trigger after nearly eight years off as a top-lined screen actor.
But other factors work in this conflicted but entertaining thriller's favor. Among them: Ray Winstone as assassin/fixer/philosopher of mysterious employ, who quietly becomes the most intriguing character, and co-writer William Monahan's fabulous way with vaguely threatening doublespeak. My favorite, and I'm paraphrasing, comes from Danny Huston, who plays the head of a private nuclear concern.
Walking and talking with a government official with whom he should not be walking and talking, Huston's character says: "I don't know what you're talking about. And surely you're not even saying it." Elsewhere, Winstone's character refers to himself, with a cool mixture of pride and shame, as having "made things unintelligible for the past 30 years." This is why Monahan won the Oscar for The Departed, which shares this film's Boston setting and far-reaching sleaze.
Gibson's homicide detective Tommy Craven has a grown daughter, Emma (Bojana Novakovic), who works as a researcher at the house of nukes known as Northmoor. When an assassin kills Emma before Tommy's eyes, everyone assumes the hit was meant for the cop. But when a grieving Tommy finds a pistol among Emma's possessions, he wonders why.
Tommy strives, seething, to learn the truth and take violent, bloody care of various political and corporate scuzzies who are exploiting some highly radioactive pursuits for personal gain. Kill someone's only child, and what do you have? You have a righteous avenger role almost too well suited for Gibson's persona. Now that he's 54 and been through a lot, that famous face has become deeply creased, a little haunted and more interesting.
This is really two films. There's the Gibson slaughter fest, and there's the other film, the one more like the miniseries. Director Martin Campbell cannot linger long over any one cloak-of-darkness meeting the way he did when he had six-plus hours. But by letting Winstone's ambiguous middleman share and, in fact, steal scenes from Gibson (it's scripted that way), Edge of Darkness fleshes out its '70s-style symphony of paranoia.
All in all, like the recent State of Play — another pretty good strip-it-for-parts adapted British miniseries — Campbell's film offers not surprises, exactly, but craftsmanship and brute cunning satisfactions.
Edge of Darkness ✭✭✭
A homicide detective avenges his daughter's death.
With Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone. Directed by Martin Campbell.
Running time: 117 minutes
Rated R: Violence, language, mature themes
'Edge of Darkness'
Mad Mel brings the muscle
Mel Gibson, 'Edge of Darkness'