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Mad Mel

film_melGibson back with a vengeance in 'Edge of Darkness'

Mel Gibson has never been one of those chameleon actors who disappears into a role. Even in Braveheart (especially in Braveheart), viewers could never forget they were watching Mel Gibson painted blue. Since Gibson's career has always been about persona, it's interesting to see how that persona is evolving in the political thriller, Edge Of Darkness, Gibson's first onscreen role in eight years. Physically, more lined and craggy than we remember, and smaller, even shorter on camera, his demeanor seems more humble and contained, less flamboyant.

This conservative, paternal approach befits his character here, a blue-collar police detective searching for the murderer of his grown daughter. But there's one aspect of Gibson's persona that has not altered over the years: ever since Braveheart, he's been drawn to playing the martyr, the stoic hero who suffers mightily for the sins of the rest of us. Gibson's martyr complex isn't so much of a problem at first in Edge Of Darkness; clues begin to add up, suspense builds, the action is fast, visceral and violent. It's not until the last quarter of the film that logic and dignity are tossed aside and we're invited to wallow in the character's pain and bow down to our wrathful, rampaging avenger.

Adapted from a 20-year old, six-part BBC mini-series, the film was rewritten and updated by scriptwriters William Monahan (The Departed) and Andrew Bovell. It's directed by action veteran Martin Campbell, who also directed the original TV series. The action is relocated to Boston, where detective Tom Craven (Gibson) is enjoying a rare visit from his 24-year-old daughter, Emma (Bojana Novakovic)—until she's gunned down on his porch. The cops assume Tom was the target, and start rounding up the usual suspects, but as soon as grieving Tom can bring himself to start going through Emma's things, evidence begins to suggest otherwise.

While his superiors try to herd him off the official police case, Tom launches a dangerous and increasingly isolating investigation of his own. It leads to the remote Connecticut woods and the top secret nuclear engineering plant with a government contract where Emma worked in her "classified" job, presided over by a silkily perverse CEO (Danny Huston). It leads to the ratty apartment where Emma's boyfriend is holed up, terrified he'll be the next victim. And it sets Tom on a collision course with philosophical British hit-man, Jedburgh (the highly entertaining Ray Winstone), who's smack in the middle of a belated crisis of conscience, and likens himself to Diogenes, searching for an honest man.

Things play out efficiently enough, with Tom outwitting thugs, out-muscling opponents, and coping with tender memories of Emma as an adorable child (Gabrielle Popa, in flashback). The grudging rapprochement Tom forges with Emma's boyfriend (Shawn Roberts) is also nicely done. (Although Tom's stock falls in a repulsive scene where he beats the living bejeebers out of an unarmed eco-activist leader who once put Emma in jeopardy.)

But as soon as Tom tells one of his highly-placed adversaries that it's time to "decide if you're hangin' on the cross, or bangin' in the nails," it all starts to devolve into The Passion of the Mel. Betrayed by his closest confidant, imprisoned in an underground sepulcher (from which he escapes all too easily), battle-scarred, poisoned, (and in possession of a miraculous piece of evidence: milk, in a glass bottle that neither shatters nor spills its contents while being hauled through all kinds of mayhem in a jacket pocket), Tom staggers into the finale like some kind of zombie avenger, blasting the bad guys into mincemeat.

film_edge_of_darknessThe Gibson persona requires that his characters get mad and even. As an extra bonus, Edge of Darkness offers not only a ritual of sacrificial death, but a fantasy of resurrection as well, just in case anyone in the audience was in danger of missing the allegory. It's too bad; the movie provides plenty of intrigue, all-too-plausible conspiracy theories, and corporate and governmental skullduggery. But in the end, it's all about Mel.

EDGE OF DARKNESS ★★

With Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, and Danny Huston. Written by William Monahan and Andrew Bovell. Directed by Martin Campbell. A Warner Bros release. (R) 117 minutes.
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