The following is an Instant Messenger conversation between Scene-Stealers contributor Trevan McGee and myself:
Eric: So last night we saw Mel Gibson’s big “comeback” movie, “Edge of Darkness.” I was wondering to myself how many familiar cinematic Gibson themes would pop up in this film and it turns out: quite a lot: Revenge, gratuitous violence, martyrdom, and what else?
Trevan: Almost-torture, redemption, his patented crazy eyes. But despite all of that, I have to say, the movie had me fooled—for a little while at least. I thought, “Wow, this is really smart of Gibson to use this gritty, procedural movie as his comeback. He’s playing a muted, jagged role and the movie had its own pace without really falling apart or getting too sluggish.” Then the crazy came.
Eric: So true, especially at the end. What struck me is how at odds the message of the film was with the way it was presented. So Gibson plays a grieving father whose daughter is shot with a high-powered shotgun right in front of him (that’s just the first of many shocking, violent outbursts) and that sets him upon a path of vengeance: just like “The Patriot,” “Braveheart,” “Payback,”—hell, even “Hamlet”!
Trevan: Well, I think the vengeance came second. At first at least, he’s trying to find some closure or some understanding as to why this happened. Then he starts killing people.
Eric: I should mention that this movie was based on a BBC miniseries directed by the film’s director, Martin Campbell.
Trevan: Of “GoldenEye” and “Casino Royale” fame.
Eric: Yep. Except that this movie focused less on the governmental corruption that is uncovered (like the series) and more on Gibson’s single-mindedness.
Trevan: Yeah. And I really didn’t have a problem with that. If it had been about a father’s grief and his need to find closure, I would have no problem with “Edge of Darkness” and there are definitely times when it does that.
Eric: I mean, I hate big rich corporations as much as the next guy, but the idea that Danny Huston’s American CEO would be making jihadist dirty bombs is really silly and farfetched.
Trevan: But then, and I’m not exactly sure when, it becomes an “I’m gonna kill all them sonsabitches” movies and that’s really the last thing the movie needed.
Eric: It almost felt like an afterthought, like the original idea was to focus on this bereaved father…
Trevan: … especially considering it happens so abruptly and in the movie’s final 15 minutes; and then Gibson comes in and says, “Wait guys, do I get tortured at any point?”
Eric: To the movie’s credit, he doesn’t…
Trevan: “Uh, no. We hadn’t really planned on torturing you.”
Eric: … but I still thought the movie turned into a pretty lurid piece of trash by its conclusion.
Trevan: “Well can I get kind-of tortured and then become a martyr at the end?”
Eric: Ha ha ha.
Trevan: “Sure, Mel. Let’s do that.” It felt like a Charles Bronson movie from the 80s. Like the missing “Death Wish” or something.
Eric: “kind-of tortured?”
Trevan: Yeah, well I mean he’s poisoned and chained to a gurney. It’s not “Braveheart” caliber, by any means.
Eric: Well the two messages I got out of the film were this: America deserves better than the politicans and companies that lord over us and nothing is more important than your family.
Eric: Ray Winstone’s Scottish “fixer” (like Harvey Keitel in “Pulp Fiction” or George Clooney in “Michael Clayton”) pretty much says both of those things point blank. I liked that the two men, pitted against each other, formed a bond but in the time that was allotted for the movie, it wasn’t believable.
Trevan: There’s not much of the movie that is, honestly. Danny Huston borders on a Bond villain, a Boston cop’s daughter is an M.I.T. grad in science, his daughter refused to go to the police because of her disclosure agreement…
Eric: What’s really disturbing about this movie is the manner in which the violence is presented. It’s not campy fun like “Inglorious Basterds” and it’s not realistic for a reason (to make you physically ill and examine what it is psychologically makes a human do this) like “Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer.” It’s serious and graphic as hell AND it wants you to cheer along: Enjoy the bloodlust! Clap, for crissakes!
Trevan: Look at the blood on his face! That’s for you!
Eric: What’s funny is that one of the last brutal shootings in the face is actually really funny and not on purpose. That tends to undercut the intention. It’s a grisly, unpleasant movie being sold as a “serious” action thriller with good family values …
Trevan: Yeah, but not for the right reasons.
Eric: … and that’s kind of insulting.
Trevan: What drives me crazy is that there’s a good story in there. There’s elements that work exceedingly well.
Eric: Exceedingly? That’s a stretch. Like what?
Trevan: The idea of grief motivating someone to action is compelling. And the underlying notion that he was a pretty absent father from her adult life puts a point on his grief. But that’s marred by a shaky moral code, a lame-duck conspiracy, and an unnecessary bloodlust. What’s more (SPOILER ALERT), he dies at the end, instead of having to live with his guilt, grief and repercussions.
Eric: Well I guess we already talked about his martyrdom, so that’s fair to mention.
Trevan: It’s a total cop out that turns the movie (one that uses cause-and-effect as a central point) into a contradiction.
Eric: I don’t mind graphic violence when it serves a purpose other than titillation. There are several instant deaths that only serve to shock and it seems completely at odds with the storytelling established before. Not to mention, the thriller aspects of the plot are fairly contrived (Winstone even says this out loud at one point in reference to some of the more absurd plots he has had to cook up) and impossible to follow. The end is even more ludicrous and laughable. For me, this is a rock fist way down. You?
Trevan: I’m going minor rockfist down—only because there are a handful of moments that aren’t completely wasted. But don’t get me wrong, it fails.