Mel Gibson's back, kicking both left- and right-wing ass

Feb 3, 2010 at 12:00 am

Mel Gibson's anger issues handily boil over in Edge of Darkness, a taut thriller crammed full of omni-directional rage directed straight at society. The source material is 25 years old, but the seething contempt for soulless corporations, amoral politicians and reckless activists makes it feel ripped from teleprompters of today's cable news bloviators, and it gives the film a curious energy that extends beyond its familiar thriller trappings.

Gibson plays Tommy Craven, a vet Boston detective, which, by implication, makes him a badass you don't want to mess with. 

He's also a doting dad who morphs into a remorseless avenging angel when his scientist daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) is gunned down beside him on his front porch. His fellow cops think the bullets were meant for him, but Tommy has a hunch there's something more than ex-con grudges at play, and he starts combing through Emma's phone looking for suspects. Eventually that trail leads him to the penthouse castle of her boss Jack Bennett, a nuclear power magnate, played with oily menace by Danny Huston, who's almost as big a creep as the one his old man played in Chinatown. Bennett is hip-deep in illicit defense contracts and treacherous dirty deals, but he's got the unmitigated gall to stare Craven down and ask how it felt to lose his little girl. 

We can guess what's coming for this shady manipulator, but first Mel must plow his way through a host of thugs, flunkies, lawyers and assorted low-lifes, as he wrenches the truth out of them through sheer force of will. Craven's an equal-opportunity ass kicker too; dude's just as pissed at Bennett's conservative political backers as he is the crusading environmental group that endangered his daughter. Craven is savvy enough to outwit all the hired guns, mooks and goons the villains throw at him, and the only guy tough enough to stop him is a deadly corporate fixer and mercenary named Jedburgh (the great Ray Winstone), but he develops a sort of grudging respect and sympathy for his grief-stricken foe.  

Like last year's State of Play, Edge of Darkness was adapted from an acclaimed BBC serial and, like that film, the many tortuous subplots have been streamlined for the screen, for the better. The original had a more epic, metaphysical bent, though the action here sometimes veers into that exaggerated Jack Bauer territory. The deeper it delves into conspiracy-think, the sillier it gets, but there's always Gibson's intense, magnetic presence to pull us back in. 

It's hard to believe it's been nearly a decade since Gibson's last starring role, before the ill-advised sidesteps into religious dogma, South America head trips and his fascinating DUI meltdown. Nice as it is to have him back as a leading man, it's hard to completely shove Gibson's very public demons out of mind, especially when he picks a project that reminds us of the cathartic fury bubbling just below his handsome surface.

Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].