If there’s any reason to watch Edge of Darkness, it’s Mel Gibson, returning to acting in a starring role for the first time since 2002’s Signs. A lot’s happened to him since then, and because it’s been so long since we’ve really seen him, the years weigh heavily on his face. You can see life in the craggy lines around his eyes, you see a man who’s experienced the world and been changed by it. Edge of Darkness uses all of that to its advantage, in the story of an angry cop and father who sets out to solve the mystery of his daughter’s brutal murder. If only Edge of Darkness had kept it simple, if only Edge of Darkness had simply left the story at that. Instead it spirals down into a pit of political questions about nuclear disarmament, terrorism, and eventually even the afterlife. What should have been a straightforward revenge flick, the story of a weary father who’s lost everything he cares about in life, becomes something more complicated and infinitely less interesting.
At the center of it all though, there’s Mel, photographed by director Martin Campbell as a man hunched over inside an oversized trench coat. He plays Boston Detective Thomas Craven and when we meet him, he’s bringing his daughter home from the airport. Her visit doesn’t last long, before she’s brutally murdered by an unknown assailant. The media assumes Craven was the killer’s intended target, a bitter criminal out for revenge against the cop who arrested him, but Craven isn’t so certain.
Rather than deal with his horrific loss, Craven does the only thing he knows how to do, and goes to work. He blocks out the rest of the world, puts his brain in cop mode, and starts investigating his daughter’s murder with ruthless intensity. Campbell let’s Gibson look small and tired in front of his camera, but not so when he thinks of his daughter. Others tower over him, but when he’s angry or on the scent of a vital clue, Craven seems no less intimidating. If only Edge of Darkness were worthy of him.
Great though Gibson’s portrayal is, the story around him is not. It’s full of plot holes and unbelievable logical gaps, the unforgiveable kind that pull you out of the movie and stick inside your head. I walked out of the theater wondering why anyone would poison someone and then hire an assassin to shoot them in the head, not impressed with Mel’s character work. Why waste the poison, if you’re just going to blast them with a bullet? Even worse than those examples of fuzzy scripting is the movie’s insistence on trying to be so many things at once. Most of the film’s espionage elements simply don’t work, it’s as if they’re happening in a different movie. Gibson’s gruff but kind cop doesn’t belong in the same world with wine drinking, subtle British spies and he wouldn’t know what to do with a ghost story if he was in one, which in a way he almost is.
By the time it draws to a close, the script no longer seems to do with itself, and as it runs out of gas it throws everything it has left against the camera in one big, ridiculous splat. Gibson’s performance is stripped down and simple. Edge of Darkness should have been too. Instead it’s complicated and stupid, a waste of Mel’s considerable talents and worse, a waste of your time.