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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Edge of Darkness marks Mel Gibson's first on-screen appearance since 2003's little-seen The Singing Detective. Given all that's happened in the interim, it's not surprising that he has chosen to remain in his wheelhouse for this one. The film is firmly in the genre that made Gibson famous: it is a violent thriller about a man pushed to his limit. While some of the old magic is still there, enough of it has faded to mark Edge of Darkness as a mild disappointment.

Gibson plays Thomas Craven, a Boston cop whose grown daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) comes to stay with him for a few days. While there, she becomes violently ill. As Craven is walking her out the front door on the way to the hospital, someone drives by in a car and fatally shoots Emma with a shotgun. Craven initially assumes that he was the target, but when he finds some suspicious stuff in his daughter's duffel bag, he begins to realize that she may have actually been the intended victim. I don't want to give any spoilers here, but all you need to know is that the clues he finds lead him to a chemical research company led by the shady Jack Bennett (Danny Huston), as well as a vast conspiracy that Emma was bound up in.

Another key character is Darius Jedburgh (Ray Winstone), a shadowy "cleaner" hired by the United States government to make sure that matters of national security turn out the way the government wants them to. He keeps popping up wherever Craven is, and we are never sure which side he's on; however, part of that is due to the fact that Winstone unintelligibly mumbles most of his dialogue.

There are really two halves to Edge of Darkness. I like half that is a good old-fashioned revenge thriller. Someone kills Mel Gibson's daughter, and he sets out to make them pay. There is a nice pulpy, cathartic feeling to these sections of the film, even when they occasionally stretch credibility (and they do). Although Gibson looks considerably older than he did the last time we saw him onscreen, he still maintains authenticity playing a guy who can pull the trigger on someone evil without feeling a second of remorse. There isn't a single new element to the revenge tale, but it is a formula that is time-honored precisely because of its ability to absorb audiences.

The other half of the picture is less successful, and that's the half with the conspiracy plot. Edge of Darkness is based on a British miniseries, and I think the story would work better in that format, where the conspiracy is allowed to be introduced and developed at a more deliberate pace. By trying to squeeze something so complex into a two hour running time, the conspiracy starts to feel random and arbitrary. Rushing through things actually made me less interested in what Craven finds rather than more. The movie has to keep stopping to bring characters in to explain what's going on. There are many talky scenes of secondary characters unloading tons of exposition. You can practically feel the screenplay straining to make sense of itself.

Also, what Craven uncovers is quite massive; so massive, in fact, that it doesn't seem possible that a lone Boston cop could both uncover and undo it by himself. The weightiness and the catastrophic implications of the conspiracy don't sit well with what is essentially a Death Wish-inspired revenge fantasy.

This is a real middle-of-the-road movie for me. Gibson is solid, and director Martin Campbell (Goldeneye) stages some effective action sequences that provide a sense of brutal, macho, 80's-and-90's-style suspense, the likes of which we don't see at the movies much anymore. That said, the film's undoing is the screenplay, which takes on too much in too short a time, ultimately watering down what might have been a poignant man-takes-on-something-much-larger-than-himself thriller. If nothing else, at least Edge of Darkness puts Mel Gibson back on screen; hopefully, now that he's returned with something comfortable, he'll try something a little more adventurous next time.

( 1/2 out of four)

Blu-Ray Features:

Edge of Darkness is available on DVD or as part of a Blu-Ray combo pack on May 11. It's also available on demand through digital cable, satellite TV, XBox 360 and PlayStation 3 game consoles, or via iTunes and Amazon Video on Demand.

The Blu-Ray features begin with a "Focus Point," a 9-part documentary about the film that is broken down as follows:

"Mel's Back" is interesting because cast and crew members discuss Gibson's return to the screen without ever acknowledging the controversial behavior that precipitated it.

"Craven's War of Attrition" looks at the main character's story arc, as Gibson explores some of the motivations. "Edge of Your Seat" focuses on the action sequences (the star still does many of his own stunts), while "Scoring the Film" examines the music. "Director Profile: Martin Campbell" emphasizes the filmmaker's confidence and style behind the camera. "Boston as a Character" is about the way the city was utilized to create a specific atmosphere. These are all interesting-but-fundamental features.

More unusual, and therefore more interesting, is "Making a Ghost Character Real," in which Campbell and writer William Monahan talk about the challenges of portraying Craven's imagined conversations with his deceased daughter in a way that would prove to be affecting rather than silly.

Two final segments, "Revisiting the Miniseries" and "Adapting the Miniseries" are about the challenges of turning a multi-part series into a two-hour feature film. We learn more about what was kept, what was lost, and what was condensed. All in all, it's a pretty compelling study of adapting a property.

Finally, there are about five minutes of deleted scenes, mostly expository in nature. Their excision has no discernible effect on the movie itself.

A digital copy of Edge of Darkness can be found on both the DVD and the Blu-Ray. The movie itself was a mixed bag for me, but it's worth a look in the home video format, and the extensive Blu-Ray features nicely compliment the main feature.

Edge of Darkness is rated R for strong bloody violence and language. The running time is 1 hour and 58 minutes.

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