Sunday, 31 January 2010

Edge of Darkness (2010)

* *

(Dir. Martin Campbell, 2010)

Campbell's post 9/11, American adapation of the 1985 BBC series is a disappointment. In a formidable return, Mel Gibson stars for the first time since 2003 (
The Singing Detective) as police officer, Tom Craven. His daughter, Emma (the impressive and beautiful Bojana Novakovic), an intern at a Nuclear Facility run by bourgeois crook, Jack Bennett (Danny Huston), is shot dead outside Craven's home in the film's opening phase. As his personal investigation develops, Craven learns that his daughter was a political activist. Her discovery of Bennett's secret Weapons of Mass Destruction project at the Nuclear Facility, to be sold untraceably to an enemy in the Middle East, costs Emma her life. Meanwhile, after the disastrous 44 Inch Chest, here Ray Winstone is more convincing and swank, taking a backseat as cigar-smoking, gnomic Darius Jedburgh, a CIA man deployed to cover up Emma's murder by monitoring Craven' progress.

Unfortunately Gibson's and Winstone's performances are compromised by a far-fetched, awkward finale that can be summarised thus: heroes (Craven and Jedburgh) and villains (Bennett and a Senator, Jedburgh's boss) pitched in two sensationalist confrontations before a cringeworthy catharsis; a peaceful union for innocent murder victims, transformed ludicrously by director Campbell into ghosts. Hence it is perhaps understandable why Robert De Niro, originally casted as Jedburgh, quit due to 'creative differences'. This is despite scraps of truly poignant directing by Campbell (
Casino Royale) that include Craven remembering Emma as a little girl in awe of her father's face, bearded with shaving foam, and their endearing fun as he remembers teaching her to shave using her comb. A more brutal and miserable example of Campbell's ability is when Craven, in the same bathroom, at the same sink, rinses out Emma's blood from his hair and forces himself to watch its thick-red maelstrom ebb and disappear in a cinematographically compelling, free vortex.

Danny Huston's one-dimensional Jack Bennett is written poorly, and gives the film a real problem. Bennett recalls Huston's uncannily similar character in
The Kingdom - a stereotypical white bread, Attorney General. A framed photograph in Bennett's office of himself with George W Bush, his hard-and-sharp-as-flint persona and his uninspiring bad guy, good guy dialogue with Craven ("What's it like, losing a daughter?") purport to an embarrassing frippery of liberal signposting. As soon as the WMD theme comes kicking and screaming into the film, the focus on grief and vengeance - what we are supposed to sympathise with and revere - is undermined. The very word, "classified", is repeated so often it loses all connoted excitement, as Edge of Darkness begins to assume the tone of Michael Moore's moralistic film making, though without the shock-factor of real politicians, real statistics or real lives to be admired, or simply, to stimulate (ironically, Moore has been publicly renounced by Mel Gibson). Nonetheless in a time when marketing campaigns are desperate to come across as fashionably green but are motivated by something completely different, contradictory even, Bennett's environmentalist posing for Craven is not irrelevant.

What is so frustrating about
Edge of Darkness is that it doesn't really know whether it is a cop thriller, a thriller with a serious political agenda, or simply a sentimental story about personal revenge. It is a cold and rubbery offering of scrambled eggs, imbued by the good, the bad, but mostly the ugly of Hollywood melodrama, including an anthropomorphic afterlife in slow motion. Worth a DVD rent, possibly a Box Office purchase, though by no means a must-see-at-the-cinema, especially during Oscar season.

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