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Movie Review

Edge of Darkness

Gibson on ‘Edge’: Actor brings his star power to revenge thriller

Mel Gibson plays a Boston detective in 'Edge of Darkness.' Mel Gibson plays a Boston detective in "Edge of Darkness." (Warner Bros. Pictures)
By Sam Allis
Globe Staff / January 29, 2010

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“Edge of Darkness’’ will be remembered as the vehicle for Mel Gibson’s return to the screen after seven years. Based on an award-winning BBC television miniseries from 1985, it reminds us of his star power - and his limitations.

An actor who can carry a movie is nothing to dismiss. Robert Redford comes to mind. Yet like Redford, soaring performances elude Gibson. He remains a pro who delivers what he’s got in him. It’s nice to see him on the screen again, however wacko his behavior has been off it.

Shot in and around Boston by director Martin Campbell, who also directed the six-part series, the movie is a long, complicated affair that has its moments but suffers from an overwrought plot.

On one level, “Edge of Darkness’’ fits squarely in the genre of vigilante movies, including Gibson’s earlier “Payback,’’ as well as “Death Wish,’’ where Charles Bronson plays a quiet architect who, after his wife is murdered, starts killing criminals on the streets of New York. “Hard To Kill,’’ which came out in 1990, brought us Steven Seagal, pre-hairpiece and beluga waistline, as a Chicago detective whose wife is murdered.

Unlike the protagonists in those films, Gibson’s character struggles with his need for revenge in “Edge of Darkness.’’ He kills without panache. Nothing comes easy. He is neither a force of nature nor a wizard detective. He fights to maintain his mental stability in the face of emotional collapse. (His Boston accent is tragic, but no worse than those of countless other actors.)

Gibson is Tom Craven, a veteran Boston homicide detective and single father whose daughter Emma is murdered on the front steps of his house in blue-collar Roslindale. (Roslindale is a nice touch, sited by Boston-bred screenwriter William Monahan, who won an Oscar for “The Departed’’ and cowrote this movie.)

Emma, played competently by Serbian-born actress Bojana Novakovic, returns home from her job as a research trainee at a top-secret nuclear facility that has scads of government contracts. Craven picks her up at the airport and she is vomiting blood before she enters the house. There, the bleeding gets worse. She collapses and her father rushes to take her to a hospital. As they leave, someone in a passing SUV yells “Craven’’ and shoots her.

Gibson gradually learns that he may not have been the target, as he first assumed, and spends the rest of the movie tracking down and ultimately dispatching those responsible for her death.

Despite his daughter’s MIT degree, Craven never knew she worked in such a facility. He goes through her personal effects and finds her employee badge and a gun, among other things. He visits her boyfriend, in fear for his life for good reason, and then the facility, where he confronts the corrupt, oleaginous head of the place played beautifully by Danny Huston, who owns this kind of role. By then, Craven knows he’s being followed. The men in the dark suits try repeatedly to kill him, while one after another, the people he talks to are murdered.

In good conscience, I cannot divulge any more of the plot, which culminates in a bizarre ending. You wish the free-floating fear that so successfully enveloped the BBC series had been better captured here.

What I can say is that the movie revolves, in part, around an environmental group trying to expose illegal activities going on at the nuclear facility. A shadowy government operative named Darius Jedburgh, played by the redoubtable Ray Winstone, is on the scene, too. We don’t know much about him other than he is a “cleaner’’ brought in by someone to tidy things up as the killings mount. (Jean Reno was a memorable “nettoyeur,’’ French for “cleaner,’’ in “La Femme Nikita.’’)

The movie’s weaknesses include the overuse of grainy flashbacks of Craven’s daughter as a child, and the conversations he has with her after she is gone. Both are tremendously moving ideas but eventually succumb to bathos from repetition.

Far better are the scenes in which we watch the detective show a stone-cold stare as he questions people. The lines in Gibson’s face speak to the decades he has spent doing this. He is a real cop doing the legwork real cops do. Only this time it involves his daughter, and that’s shattering.

Gibson returns to the screen stripped of his glamour. It’s a smart way to go. His performance in “Edge of Darkness’’ is purely adult, no bells and whistles, no vamping. He’d be wise to pursue these kinds of roles in the future.

Sam Allis can be reached at allis@globe.com.

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Hollywood's most fascinating firebrand is back on screen with "Edge of Darkness."

EDGE OF DARKNESS

Directed by: Martin Campbell

Written by: William Monahan and Andrew Bovell from the original television series written by Troy Kennedy Martin

Starring: Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, Bojana Novakovic, Shawn Roberts

At: Boston Common, Fenway and suburbs

Running time: 116 minutes

Rated: R (bloody violence and language)

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