Looking Back: Mel Gibson Atones, Defeated

City Pulse | January 25, 2010
Looking Back

Mel Gibson Atones, Defeated

Edge of Darkness (Two Stars) (589 words)

By Cole Smithey

Acting in his first film since 2003 Mel Gibson is a bit rusty as retiring Boston homicide detective Thomas Craven in a part corporate-thriller and part old-school revenge fantasy that feels dated from the start. A gratuitously bloody murder sets up a gauntlet of corporate espionage Craven must navigate to investigate murder of his political-activist daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic). Danny Huston delivers some enjoyable scene chewing as corporate baddie Jack Bennett, but Ray Winstone seems to have been cast in a role cut-and-pasted from a different film. Director Martin Campbell's filmmaking is competent. He creates better than average chase scenes as well as the sudden deaths common in the revenge genre. Despite its formulaic storyline, insincere subplots, and a wobbly performance from Mel Gibson, quick pacing works to the film's advantage.

The assassination that locks in its inciting incident feels like something picked up from Sam Peckinpah's cutting room floor. It's a giveaway to how desperate the filmmakers are to sucker-punch the audience into submission for a story that it's better not to scrutinize too closely. After his daughter is killed, Craven and his police cohorts assume that he was the intended target of a botched assassination attempt. It's a convenient association that allows Craven to work on an otherwise conflict-of-interest case.

There's something odd about Mel Gibson atoning for his public, private, and professional transgressions of the last six years--that began with "The Passion of the Christ"--with a police procedural where he practically winks at the camera. In nearly every scene there's a moment where you can see Gibson "acting." In the face of his damaged public persona and fading looks Gibson seems clearly nervous about his ability to win over an audience. He does a little look-back to the camera at the end of several scenes, and his expression is unmistakable as an actor seeking approval from some imaginary source.

Similar to last year's "State of Play," "Edge of Darkness" is based on a six-part, 1985 British miniseries. And like "State of Play," this attempt at condensing six hours of narrative into 100 minutes results in underdeveloped characters overstating their positions in scenes that beg more questions than they address.

Emma worked as an intern for Northmoor, a private nuclear facility where six members of an anti-nuclear group recently turned up dead near an adjacent reservoir filled with toxic levels of nuclear waste. In an age where massive ecological transgressions are overlooked or dismissed, the story's political component is as stale as an invasion of another country in the Southern hemisphere.

There's no room for the kind of self-righteous avenging patriarch that Gibson imagines his character to represent. At best, a film like "Edge of Darkness" acknowledges the passing of an older, ostensibly wiser and more competent generation, giving way to a younger generation unable to get its collective head around the ravaged bits of culture shamelessly bequeathed to them. As an actor, Mel Gibson has become irrelevant because, for all of his great movies (see "Mad Max," "Gallipoli," and "Lethal Weapon") he went off on too many weird anti-Semitic tangents for his stage presence to withstand. You can sense it when Gibson gives those character-breaking glances back at what used to be a great career. The lesson of "Edge of Darkness" is the same one we see in the fall of every civilization. There's no such thing as "too big to fail."

Rated R. 108 mins. (C-) (Two Stars)
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