Monday, February 1, 2010

Father's vengeance, lethal weapon

Edge of Darkness [***]

After eight years out of the limelight of carrying a motion picture (he directed two and then spewed a bunch of anti-Semetic rhetoric), Mel Gibson returns to the lead role essaying fold as Tom Craven, a bereaved father looking for his daughter’s killer and trying to divine the circumstances of her murder (up to and including whether or not he or she was the intended target). As Craven, Gibson manages to be likable, angry and hangdog all at once. More than that, Gibson manages the nifty paradox of looking grizzled and no worse for wear simultaneously.

I like to use the words satisfying and violent in conjunction with one another, and “Edge of Darkness” is both satisfying and violent but not exactly satisfying violent (my favorite way to pair the words). We see in Gibson’s Tom Craven, a man who looks tormented by his duty. He’s not so stoic and expressionless that you can’t feel the revenge weighing on his soul, he’d rather be anywhere but there and when he has to involve one of his daughter’s friends in his investigation it pains him. Not only because it will get more people killed, but because the stranger before him just highlights the gulf between him and his daughter. It’s not that they weren’t on good terms, but life got in the way and death is the most painful reminder of that.

Working for the bad guys is a cleaner type (think Michael Clayton with a gun, but not quite a hitman) played by Ray Winstone, who is as weary of the necessary evils his job asks of him as Gibson is. They share a common trait symptomatic of their regret and a grudging mutual respect that allows for a full understanding of lines that can be towed and crossed. The truth is, Winstone and Gibson’s character are enough alike that to highlight all their similarities would make this a piece worthy of the words “spoiler alert.”

Being based on a BBC miniseries like last year’s “State of Play” one can’t help but wonder if William Monaghan’s script is as adept at streamlining the story as that film was, but it has a thought in its head about the toll revenge takes on us, our fatherly regrets and whether or not life is worth it once all the blood dries up. As much as I appreciated the ensemble of “Play” and the way the film allows the distinct imprint of each of its three screenwriters to be felt I think time will allow “Edge of Darkness” to be the more enduring picture. Martin Campbell is a solid director with a keen eye for action staging. He doesn’t make big setpieces like he did with “Casino Royale,” but the brutal bursts of action here remind us not only that “Royale” is, at least, eighty percent as good as it is because of him, but that his prowess with immediacy and coherence reminds me of David Cronenberg or Martin Brest. It’s also the kind of short, clipped action that an angry fellow past middle age would engage in and not the sort of thing that screams I have a license to kill. Another reason is how even the sound design allows us to empathize with Craven. The loudest and most startling acts of violence are perpetrated on women in this film and perhaps it’s a coincidence but the way that they take both Craven and the audience by surprise only amplifies our horror and awakens in us and him our natural inclination to protect and/or avenge the fairer sex.

Typically January is regarded as the cinematic doldrums along with August and September but “Edge of Darkness” and the pedigree that comes with it proves that just because your hero might be too old for this shit doesn’t mean he can’t do it well.

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