It’s an aging Mel Gibson in a Death Wish movie that’s bamboozled itself into thinking it’s somehow important. This it achieves by working in the belief that festooning a largely transparent plot with enough obfuscating gimcrackery—especially involving evil corporations and corruption in government—will result in an inevitable degree of heaviosity. Fiddlesticks. This has considerably less depth than, say, Neil Jordan’s The Brave One (2007), a barefaced revenge/vigilante thriller that at least had the wit to question the morality of its hero’s actions. The worst part is that when you strip Edge of Darkness of its basic revenge plot, what’s left is fairly tedious.
Gibson stars as Thomas Craven, a Boston police detective with a very dodgy accent. The plot is set in motion when his daughter, Emma (Bojana Novakovic, Drag Me to Hell), pays him a visit—and keeps vomiting and bleeding from the nose, finally prompting her to decide that she needs a doctor. No sooner do they open the door to go in search of said medical advice than a voice cries out, “Craven!” and Emma is blasted back into the house. She tries to tell Dad something, but expires before she can. Everyone assumes that Craven was the intended victim—after all, police detectives have been known to make enemies—but was he? He doesn’t think so—and if you’ve seen the trailer, neither do you. You’d both be right, but only you might wonder why he doesn’t bring up Emma’s issues at the autopsy. For that matter, you might wonder—in light of what her ailment turns out to be—why the doctor notices nothing. That’s OK. It’ll all resurface when it suits the plot.
Craven, of course, sets off to uncover the truth, which leads him through a variety of people and institutions with which his daughter was involved. It takes no time whatsoever for us to discern that everything is somehow connected to her work at the mysterious Northmoor Corporation—a showy compound with security to beat the band that’s lorded over by Jack Bennett. Bennett is played by Danny Huston, who at first seems to think he’s still the suave villain from Children of Men (2006)—that is until he’s reduced to a blubbery Laird Cregar impression in a largely superfluous scene where Craven terrorizes him.
There’s also a frightened ex-boyfriend (Shawn Roberts, I Love You, Beth Cooper), who, naturally, has good reason to be frightened, and an even more frightened former friend of Emma’s played by TV actress Caterina Scorsone, who must have been let out of an overacting rehab facility to be in this movie. Scorsone is easily the funniest thing in Edge of Darkness. Unfortunately, the movie wasn’t going for laughs. Oh well, take your compensations where you find them.
Quite the brightest spot in the picture is Ray Winstone as Jedburgh, the ultra-mysterious CIA agent (I think), who shows up out of nowhere to smoke cigars and drink wine with Craven—and in general, to let everyone know that whatever they think, he’ll decide what happens in the end. He’s improbable, but he’s also fun in a way that no one else in the movie is. Alas, he tends to disappear from the film for what perhaps seem like longer stretches than they are.
All the rather plodding mystery builds to a not-very-shocking climax that exposes the rampant perfidy of the apparently insane Bennett and his even less shocking involvement with representatives of our very government. But fear not, it’s Craven to the rescue of our collective souls, informing the bad guys that they’d better decide if they’re hanging on the cross “or bangin’ in the nails.” I cannot fairly describe the last scene in the movie in a review, but I’ll note it’s the kind of sanctimonious cheese that would have been at home in a mid-1920s Mary Pickford drama. Still, it’s perhaps less unsettling than the idea that the truth of what happened is left in the hands of a Fox News TV reporter. Make of that what you will.
While I wasn’t personally feeling all that deprived by the lack of Mel Gibson vehicles for the past seven-plus years, I can’t help but wonder if this is really the best he could come up with for a comeback. All the dubious and even downright loony antics that have marked Gibson’s personal life in recent years haven’t altered the fact that he still has charisma and star quality. He’s perfectly capable of holding the screen, but he needs something better than this muddle. Rated R for strong bloody violence and language.