Hopkins, Bart the Bear Give ‘The Edge’ Its Sharpness
Few movie spectacles are more satisfying than great performers playing deadly rivals, than natural-born antagonists going at it fang and claw, so to speak. “The Edge” has such a rivalry going, but it’s not quite what you might expect.
For though the movie is set up as a conflict between Anthony Hopkins’ remote billionaire and Alec Baldwin’s flashy fashion photographer, the battle that gives “The Edge” its power and excitement is the one between Hopkins and Bart the Bear, two consummate professionals who hold nothing back.
They don’t give Oscars for best supporting bear, and Bart is probably not on the American Film Institute’s short list for a life achievement award. But his performance here, the capstone of an illustrious career, is a milestone in ursine acting. Here’s hoping the big guy didn’t have to work for scale.
Given that “The Edge” was written by David Mamet and directed by Lee Tamahori (“Once Were Warriors,” “Mulholland Falls”), no one will be expecting a remake of “Lady Windermere’s Fan.” But that doesn’t mean that “The Edge” isn’t something of a surprise.
For though Mamet’s recurrent themes of rivalry and betrayal, extreme behavior and men put to the test are present, the confrontations here are more physical than verbal. What Mamet and Tamahori have come up with is a pleasantly old-fashioned man-against-nature epic that could have been written by Jack London or appeared in one of those 1950s magazines with names like Saga and Argosy. “Men at their most primeval,” the cover line would likely have read, “stripped bare by the wilderness and the demons in their souls.”
“The Edge” also fits neatly into the adventure-disaster genre that is the trend of the moment, with books on killer storms off New England and big trouble on Mt. Everest high on national bestseller lists. While the film has a tendency to tilt toward the too insistently macho, Hopkins’ well-grounded performance and Bart’s bear-like ability straighten things out.
For his part, Mamet has come up with an effective premise of men with every reason to despise each other needing to cooperate to survive. The point of contention between them is, not surprisingly, a beautiful woman named Mickey (Elle Macpherson, naturally), the husband of one man and the favorite model of the other.
Charles Morse (Hopkins) is the husband, and if there is such a thing as the average billionaire, it’s not him. Gifted with an appetite for arcane knowledge and the ability to recall it at will, he seems to know everything, even why a rabbit is calmly smoking a pipe though threatened by a predator on a piece of native Alaskan art. “The rabbit is unafraid,” says Morse, “because he knows he’s smarter.”
Morse is in Alaska, specifically in a ramshackle lodge run by an old trail rat named Styles (Sam Peckinpah veteran L.Q. Jones), to accompany his wife on a fashion shoot run by Robert Green (Baldwin). Spending his time reading a book called “Lost in the Wild” given to him by his secretary, Morse is ill at ease, partly because that’s his natural state and partly because he suspects his wife and Green are having an affair.
Almost on a whim, Green, his assistant Stephen (Harold Perrineau, the blazing Mercutio in Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo & Juliet”) and Morse get into a rickety plane to search for a photogenic old hunter. The ride isn’t what they expect, and soon enough they’re on the ground, forced to try to walk out of the wild together if they are to stay alive.
It’s at this point the rivalry between the two men is supposed to take center stage (and the film would’ve benefited if it had) but Baldwin’s Bob Green is more of an idea for a character than a real person. A slick emotional blowhard, he creates as little interest lost in the wilderness as he did anywhere else.
Hopkins, by contrast, uses his great gift for being convincing to subtly but unmistakably change on screen as he comes to embody the masculine credo “what one man can do another can do.” Morse’s face gets more alive, his physical demeanor peps up, he blooms in the wilderness like a cold weather version of a cactus flower. It’s a transformation all the more remarkable for appearing in a film so dependent on physical not psychological dynamics.
In no time at all a formidable antagonist enters the survivors’ lives, a large and vicious Kodiak bear who has gotten used to feasting on humans, a habit, apparently, as tough to break as cigarettes. He trails the group as relentlessly as Natty Bumpo, and the men come to understand they may run from the beast but there is nowhere they can hide.
As photographed by veteran Donald McAlpine, edited by “Dances With Wolves’ ” Neil Travis and directed by Tamahori (who has said, “I wanted to instill in the audience the same terror experienced by these characters”), the scenes of bear attacks are the strongest in the film, always believable and clearly energizing to Hopkins.
As for Bart, at this stage in his career, after starring in “The Bear” and “Legends of the Fall,” he could have rested on his laurels, or whatever it is bears rest on. But under the training of Doug and Lynn Seus, Bart goes all out and pilfers the picture.
Compared to these bestial heroics, the rivalry between the film’s two fallible men can’t help but be less involving. Yet “The Edge’s” fusion of Mametspeak with a true life adventure remains brawny entertainment, even it it is difficult to take as seriously as the filmmakers intend. But when Bart is on his game, nobody is going to notice anything else.
* MPAA rating: R, for language and some adventure gore-violence. Times guidelines: not for those phobic about bear attacks.
Anthony Hopkins: Charles Morse
Alec Baldwin: Robert Green
Elle Macpherson: Mickey Morse
Harold Perrineau: Stephen
L.Q. Jones: Styles
An Art Linson production, released by Twentieth Century Fox. Director Lee Tamahori. Producer Art Linson. Executive producer Lloyd Phillips. Screenplay David Mamet. Cinematographer Donald M. McAlpine. Editor Neil Travis. Costumes Julie Weiss. Music Jerry Goldsmith. Production design Wolf Kroeger. Art director Richard Harrison. Set decorator Janice Blackie-Goodine. Running time: 2 hours, 1 minute.
* In general release throughout Southern California.