Edge of Darkness (2010)

A while ago, I watched State of Play (2009). It’s probably a decent journalism thriller, akin to, if somewhat less accomplished than, All the President’s Men (1976). I couldn’t say, though. It’s a remake, I had already watched the original BBC version (2003) earlier, and it ruined any enjoyment I might have gotten from the American film. Instead of judging it on its own merits, all I could see was what was missing in terms of scenes, character depth, atmosphere. I suspect that had it been the other way around, I might have enjoyed both versions.
To test this hypothesis, I decided to conduct this experiment: I would watch the American remake of Edge of Darkness (2010) first, followed by the 25-year-older BBC miniseries (1985).

Edge of Darkness was supposed to be a comeback vehicle for Mel Gibson. For the record: I don’t care about the private lives of film makers. So what if Gibson has anger issues or unfortunate political views? That’s none of my business, and even if I was interested in celebrity gossip, I’m able to ignore that when I watch a movie, particularly if the actor is good enough to disappear into his part (which Gibson is, at his best). If I stopped watching movies from or with people who are unpleasant in real life, I’d soon run out of films to watch.
In the end, the general public did not care enough about this film’s premise (or maybe Gibson’s image was still too toxic); its performance can at best be called tepid. That’s fitting.
Martin Campbell can be a frustratingly variable director in terms of quality. On the one hand, he’s responsible for the best two post-80s Bond flicks, and for one of my favourite films, period (The Mask of Zorro, 1998). On the other hand, The Legend of Zorro (2005) is a horrible mess, and the critics have savaged his Green Lantern (2011). And then there is this film.
On Campbell’s GoodZorro/BadZorro spectrum, it slots in somewhere in the middle. It’s not terrible, but I also feel that there’s potential here that wasn’t fulfilled.

Beware! Evil spoilers below have conspired to ruin plot twists for people!

Gibson plays Thomas Craven, a Boston police officer (with a decent, understated accent, as far as I can tell) whose daughter is killed; accidentally, it appears, in a retaliatory hit on Craven himself. Except that the gunman makes no second attempt on his life, and Craven finds a gun in her bag and a Geiger counter in her flat, so something is fishy about the whole thing. Craven investigates, and soon finds himself knee-deep in a conspiracy that involves paid assassins, poisonings, a great many scared people, defence contractors, and some pretty high levels of government.

As can be seen from the plot summary, the film and Gibson’s character move very quickly from “I inadvertently caused my daughter’s death” to “this is a conspiracy, and I will get to the bottom of it”. As a result, his grieving period is a bit rushed and becomes almost an after-thought in the second half of the film (literally, if you consider the cheesy tacked-on ending, where Craven is reunited with his daughter in the afterlife).

I think if the movie had been more ambiguous about the nature – or, for that matter, the existence – of the conspiracy, it could have dealt with four aspects: Craven’s grief, guilt, emerging comprehension of the devious plot, and lust for revenge. As is, only the latter two aspects are emphasised, and the movie is merely a fairly typical conspiracy thriller with a bit of revenge mixed in. I suppose it could have been worse, had it focused only on Craven coming after a string of people he deems responsible and picking them off one by one. The conspiracy angle is given more time than expected from the film’s trailer and poster, with Craven actually trying to confirm his suspicions first and gathering evidence before confronting his targets. When the movie does finally go all-out and has Craven killing his enemies left and right, that’s when it goes off the rails.

Said targets aren’t developed at all, which is another thing the film could have handled better. As played by Danny Huston, Bennett, the up-to-no-good head of a research and development company Craven’s daughter worked at, is a typical smarmy corporate arsehole with sociopathic tendencies, delusions of grandeur and no regard for moral boundaries. He’s a caricature. The politicians, bodyguards and government agents fare little better. There is no attempt at shading and making the audience understand their motives at all; they don’t need motivations, they’re villains, nothing more. Their purpose is to feebly obstruct Craven’s search for truth and to provide cathartic release when they are punished for their crimes.
The one exception is the character played by Ray Winstone, a cancer-stricken government hatchet man sympathetic to Craven’s cause, who allows him to continue his investigation, helps it along, and ends up doling out justice his own way. But well-acted though the role is, the character’s drive and inner conflict remains mainly in the dark and could have benefitted from a few more scenes.

Speaking of darkness, the movie’s title doesn’t really apply to the main character; there is no edge to Craven’s darkness, because he’s clearly in the right and the audience is supposed to cheer for him. He leaves a trail of dead bodies in his wake (some of which he dispatches himself, some of which the company kills because they talked to him), and there are no consequences until the end of the film, when a confrontation is engineered to get Craven into a final, heroic shootout.

The sad thing is there’s no need for such a conventional ending, and it seems out of place considering the rest of the film. If all Craven was after was bloody revenge, he could have had that halfway through the film, when it was already becoming clear what had happened and who was responsible. He would not have had to follow the breadcrumbs untangling the needlessly convoluted and roundabout conspiracy for an additional hour. It’s like the movie decided that it doesn’t really matter if Craven (or we, the viewer) discovers the whole truth; let’s start the killing, which is what the audience really wants!

I’ve read somewhere that there were reshoots to make the film more accessible and mainstream; that’s not hard to believe. There are several dialogue scenes which are weirdly edited, make little narrative sense, and end abruptly, as if the studio had decided to cut out exposition but done so without caring about retaining cohesiveness. In some scenes, the dialogue is fairly naturalistic, in others, it is strangely stagey and full of gravitas and subtext the movie does not call for and cannot support. There are also two deleted scenes on the Blu-ray which are clearly alternate (i.e., less conventional or violent) takes on scenes that remain in the finished film. I’m more interested in the Edge of Darkness that could have been than I was thrilled by the finished product. We’ll see in a week or two whether the movie could have been more successful had it stuck closer to its source material.

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