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By Brian Lafferty

February 8, 2010 (San Diego)--The first scene of Edge of Darkness is a home movie featuring a little girl at the beach. This little girl is the daughter of a Boston Detective (Mel Gibson) who grows up to be a trainee at a corporation specializing in handling nuclear waste. Within the first five minutes, Gibson’s daughter comes home, gets sick, then is shot to death and dies in Gibson’s arms. After learning who was behind his daughter’s murder, he swears revenge against the evil corporation.

Sound familiar? That’s probably because it’s another movie in which Mel Gibson plays a man out for vengeance. This formula has been seen in such diverse movies as Mad Max, Braveheart, Payback, and The Patriot. This time around it fails. This film contains a lot of examples of what can make a revenge movie not work.

The first problem with Edge of Darkness is the lack of originality. There is little in this picture that is fresh. This movie is an adaptation of the 1980s British miniseries about a cover-up at a nuclear facility. Therein lies the problem: so much has been said since then about the subject that this film contains little bite. There was nothing unique about the evil corporation and the film doesn’t spend a lot of time with the man in charge of it. As a result, the character comes off as one-dimensional. There is a cover-up, of course. An unexciting car chase is thrown in as well, presumably to spice things up.

Another reason why I didn’t like the film was because it was shamelessly manipulative. After he loses his daughter, the movie spends a lot of time showing his anguish. Home movie scenes and scenes in which his daughter appears are thrown in. In one unnecessary scene towards the end, Gibson shaves. His daughter, as a little girl, shows up. He puts shaving cream on her face and gives her a comb in place of a razor. This scene, and others like it, are meant to elicit sympathy but they come across as very cheap.

The revenge portion of the film disgusted me. There are shots that are cruel and disturbingly shocking, thrown in simply for cheap effect. The intention may have been to demonstrate that Gibson’s character is in the end no better than those who killed his daughter, but it didn’t work for me. As mentioned earlier, there was so little time spent on the bad guys that I didn’t know a lot about them. I knew what their plan was and their attempts to cover up their mistakes but their characters were not developed. This made their deaths almost meaningless to me.

Edge of Darkness tries to be a solid, entertaining revenge film but it does not accomplish what it wants to do. As I was watching it, I could see the potential for a good movie. Alas, this potential was marred by a series of bad choices. Every scene was like coming to a fork in the road in which one direction was right and the other was wrong; this movie features a lot of choices in the wrong direction.

A Warner Bros. release.  Director:  Martin Campbell.  Screenplay:  William Monahan and Andrew Bovell based on the television series by Troy Kennedy Martin.  Original Music:  Howard Shore.  Cinematography:  Phil Meheux.  Cast:  Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, Bojana Novakovic, Shawn Roberts, Jay O. Sanders, and Gbenga Akinnagbe.  Runtime:  117 minutes.  Rated R.

Brian Lafferty welcomes letters at brian@eastcountymagazine.org.  You can also follow him on Twitter:  @BrianLaff


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