"Did you shoot my daughtah?" is the question posed, in flat-voweled Bostonian, in the trailer for Edge of Darkness. And Mel Gibson, much-bereaved and much-vengeful, from Hamlet to Ransom to Revolutionary America, sets out to settle another score.
Gibson is Thomas Craven: veteran, homicide detective, lonesome widower. His daughter, a post-grad intern at a research and development firm in the Berkshires, is visiting home when somebody fires a gun in front of his house. Craven, left lonelier, wants to find out who, the first link in a long chain of whos and whys that leads him up the food chain. The investigation of what's supposedly an open-and-shut botched payback killing by an old collar opens into something bigger, revealing a sweaty commingling of private and public sectors.
Director Martin Campbell, most famous for James Bond relaunches, is revisiting old material — as a hot-handed U.K. TV director, he shot the BBC2 miniseries the film is based on in 1985. For the film, mysteries unspool more quickly, and peripheral characters and "color" scenes without expository purpose have disappeared.
What's left is propulsive and streamlined, with Craven more single-mindedly focused on finding and damning the guilty. When Gibson questions his daughter's boyfriend, it's not a psychological duel, as in the miniseries, but a knife fight. This Edge is a vigilante movie. Which isn't to say it's simply a downgrade from Anglo sophistication to Hollywood slam-bang. Given the film's focus on bereavement — it is literally haunted by the dead — bodies drop with actual weight here. And the culmination is that rare shootout that can truly be called cathartic.
The original series unfolded in the shadows of the Cold War, and the incarnation is still political: Danny Huston's man-behind-the-curtain CEO disguises his rogue dealings as experiments in clean, green energy. He has pictures shaking hands with Bush II and Nancy Pelosi, and in what would have seemed a sci-fi touch a year ago, one of the implicated parties is a Republican senator from Massachusetts.
Some of the off-the-record Corridors of Power stuff is well-done, but the scenes feel haphazardly placed, not quite of the same movie as the Gibson revenge flick. Ray Winstone's Jedburgh, a government troubleshooter with ambiguous loyalties who consults on and monitors Craven's investigation, never quite integrates either. At times, it seems Jedburgh's sole mission is to deliver the script's more portentous lines: "We live awhile, and then we die sooner than we planned."
Gibson has been absent from the American screen since 2004. He's squandered his industry clout with risks both planned (The Passion of the Christ) and, assumedly, not (the passion for conspiracy theory). One wonders — certainly Warner Bros. suits will — if offscreen events have made it impossible for audiences to swallow him as a character. Yet Gibson still knows what he does best, as a star should, and creates tension just from never letting the tears poised in his eyes fall. Onscreen much of the time, thicker and more creased than you remember, he can make this rather unshapely movie seem taut.