Edge of Darkness, a thriller boasting Mel Gibson's first starring role in eight years, elicits a gigantic wow - as in "Wow, does this movie suck!" How did this canny, savvy performer get roped into such a dud for his big acting comeback? Gibson's previous work as an actor ran the gamut like anyone else's, but even in his worst films, he always seemed energized and plugged in and alive. When the picture around him sank, Gibson went down proudly, giving it the utmost effort.
In Edge of Darkness, Gibson seems disengaged, distracted and a little spacey, like a guy with voices in his head who tries hard to pretend he doesn't hear them. As Thomas Craven, a Boston detective investigating the murder of his daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic), Gibson looks as if he's ready to kill someone right from the opening scene, when she's still alive and well. His performance consists of the same monotonous note endlessly replayed: A cop willing to do anything for revenge.
Unfortunately, that revenge consists primarily of talking people to death. Gibson has played the role of avenging angel often, and with 1999's underrated Payback he seemed to be saying his final, definitive word on the vigilante genre. But here he is again, back to the same-old, inserted into a near-impenetrable conspiracy involving nuclear research.
The screenplay for Edge of Darkness, which is based on a BBC miniseries, is credited to William Monahan (The Departed) and Andrew Bovell (Dogwoman: The Legend of Dogwoman). I am going to take a wild guess and say that the Dogwoman guy did the bulk of the writing. The movie was directed by Martin Campbell, who made Casino Royale but also made Vertical Limit and Beyond Borders. Edge of Darkness makes a convincing case that, with Casino Royale, Campbell just got lucky.
Campbell also directed the original BBC Edge of Darkness, which has to have been far more stimulating than this talky,muddled remake. Getting even has never felt less satisfying or more confusing. How could Gibson not notice how dull this movie is? Does he have the same agent as Harrison Ford? Robert DeNiro, originally cast as a CIA agent assigned to cover up the murder of Craven's daughter, abruptly walked off the project after mere days (he was replaced by Ray Winstone). His departure was attributed to "creative differences." Or maybe DeNiro kept falling asleep on the set.
The characters in Edge of Darkness say such things as "It isn't what it is, Tommy. It is never what it is." and "There is something about ... the darkness. I don't like it." In one scene, two bad guys have a conversation intended to help the viewer catch up with the plot, and when one exclaimed "Surely you're not saying this!" I tried with all my might to will the other guy to reply "I am saying this. And don't call me Shirley." No luck.
I momentarily perked up when Gibson snarled "I'm not interested in talking any more s--t!" but then he went right back to doing just that. Even though he's enjoyed remarkable success as a director, Gibson was going to act again sooner or later. Now that he's purged that craving from his system, hopefully he will get back behind the camera soon (he's currently preparing a huge Viking epic with Leonardo DiCaprio). Too many more movies like Edge of Darkness will kill even the most resilient career.
Edge of Darkness opens in South Florida on Friday, Jan. 29.