Film on “Edge” of being a thriller

As February begins, most if not all of the Academy Award hopefuls have already been released and the countdown to the Oscars is under way. It is during this time that we are bombarded with typically mediocre films. This period, usually beginning mid-January, is typically very slow and formulaic for most major studio films as moviegoers scramble to catch up on the nominees for Hollywood’s biggest night in March.

With “The Book Of Eli,” “Legion,” this week’s “Edge of Darkness” and next week’s “From Paris With Love” all coming out on successive weekends it is fair to say that this is a time period when studios hope to take a break from the dramatic and cathartic films and give their audiences a few more thrills and a lot more things to blow up.

From the advertisements that were run for “Edge of Darkness” it looked like they might as well have called this movie “Taken 2: The Revenge of Mel Gibson.” However, the film is more complex and intelligent than its mindless, vengeful trailers let on. It feels more like a “Point Blank,” the classic Lee Marvin vengeance tale, than a recycled vengeance movie where the protagonist doesn’t ask questions and the director of photography refuses to use a Steadicam.

“Edge of Darkness” is a throwback, and it should be great but for some reason it isn’t. It has a brilliant director in Martin Campbell, who directed the two best James Bond films of the last twenty years in “GoldenEye” and “Casino Royale.”

It has an Academy Award-winning screenwriter in William Monahan, who penned “The Departed,” as well as a lead actor in Mel Gibson who is no stranger to effectively playing ruthless heroes as seen in “Braveheart” and the “Lethal Weapon” series.

It has all of the elements to be a classic, intelligent thriller, but sadly all three – director, writer, and actor – seem to come up short.

The film is set around Boston homicide detective Thomas Craven, played by Mel Gibson.  When his daughter comes to visit him, she is gunned down in a shotgun attack. Initially it was presumed to be an attack on Thomas Craven, but as he begins to investigate a research and development facility called North Moor it becomes apparent that his daughter Emma was in fact the target.

Craven’s goal is to figure out why his daughter was killed and, if he can, to bring down the corporation responsible for her death. That is before they, and their mysterious fixer Jedburgh, played deftly and occasionally inaudibly by Ray Winstone, can stop him.

I will give credit to screenwriter Monahan. He created a witty, interesting story that requires the audience to pay close attention to layer after layer that is unraveled, but where he and ultimately the film fall short is in the finale.

It is a problem that has shown up in his other films as well; they are filled with great dialogue and twists but at the conclusion they feel unfinished. Why take so much care in setting up an interesting narrative if it is only going to conclude in such a lazy manner? It’s like building a beautiful million-dollar home but not having enough money left to buy furniture. What is the point?

The fault does not only lay with Monahan though; there are also problems with the work of Mel Gibson and Martin Campbell. The film feels under-directed.  It’s an interesting police investigation for the first hour and a half that is bombarded with an unintelligent and unresolved violent finale.

Gibson’s performance is too muted as well; he is less bereaved and more dispassionate. It doesn’t give us the opportunity to care about him as he finds himself in danger.

There were moments where I thought this would be a future classic thriller, but ultimately it’s an old-school Hollywood whodunit gunned down by the modern post-award season action genre.