In choosing to return to the well with a much smaller bucket, Martin Campbell will have known that diluting his acclaimed six hour 1985 BBC mini series Edge of Darkness into a two hour thriller would be a minefield.
Bringing Mel Gibson on board was seemingly a good move; out of the acting spotlight for a good seven years the return to the screen of one of Hollywood’s most recognisable talents has served the hype wagon well, and this film has been sold entirely on Gibson himself.
Gibson is a Boston detective whose daughter, a MIT grad and employee of an ostensibly benign R&D company, returns home to be suddenly gunned down on her father’s doorstep. The Boston police believe Gibson’s character Thomas Craven was the target, not so Mr. Gibson, who finds a series of clues which will lead him to discover his daughter’s activist past and a deeper, darker plot with conspiring tentacles reaching all over the place.
The BBC mini series had the luxury of time to build character and develop the darkness which Bob Peck (the original’s leading man) entered into. With Gibson’s Edge of Darkness it needs a lot of condensing and pace to whip up the audience to join Gibson on his frantic quest for answers and bullet shaped justice. What happens is the audience is left standing at the station watching the train pull away in the distance.
What I struggled with was the pedestrian nature of the film punctuated with sudden and bloody violence. It was like trying to sleep during a thunderstorm. Campbell tries to engage us in the central mystery but this is hampered by the grinding inevitability of reaching journey’s end with a bag full of half truths and a pocketful of short change.
Gibson and Winstone mumble slowly, purposefully but when their conversations leave us with more questions it feels redundant as the very next scene will have Gibson stumbling on another piece of evidence, or another people will turn up dead, leading us by the hand to the conclusion which was never in any doubt.
Corporations bad. Government shady. Cops dubious. Gibson angry. It’s a shadow of the BBC original, and partly this is inevitable as Campbell can only hint at the layers of intrigue and discovery that a six hour mini series could evoke. What he, and the film, does to distance itself from the original, and paper over the cracked plot is to insert thrilling chase scenes and moments of extreme violence carried out by Gibson’s character. The problem with this is we should feel behind him every step (in the groin) of the way and we don’t.
The ten minute scene with his daughter before she gets a hole blown in her is very careful to exposit details in their conversation which set up their relationship, but it is not enough for us to invest in. To remedy this Campbell has chosen to reach into the cliche bag for the ghostly voice of his dead daughter urging Gibson on, and intercutting home video footage of her as a child to the narrative, as if to remind us what he has lost.
Therefore, every stone faced Gibson moment brandishing a gun is purely to show us how angry he is, but the feeling never permeates. No amount of people killed in appalling ways will change the fact that Edge of Darkness is a passive experience, a disappointment from Campbell and Gibson, both capable of better things.
Some secrets lead us to the edge, others make us sleepwalk over it. Edge of Darkness has been done, better, before – and by Martin Campbell. Dispassionate and detached, both Gibson and the audience reach the end none the wiser and whereas Gibson walks into the light (literally – very bizarre scene) we blink our eyes as the lights go up, wondering where all the mystery has gone.