Although based on a 1985 British TV miniseries, Edge of Darkness mostly feels like The Constant Gardener shorn of emotional complexity and weighty plotting. That hardly matters, though: The picture could have played like an episode of Sesame Street and audiences would still turn out just to answer the pressing question: So, what's Mel been up to these days?
It's been eight years since Mel Gibson has handled a leading role on the big screen (2002's Signs), and he's spent the time since then directing the biggest moneymaking snuff film of all time, getting in trouble with the bottle, with the law and with the wife, and being brilliantly parodied in a memorable episode of South Park. And now he's back in Edge of Darkness, and while his off-screen antics have noticeably aged him -- he almost looks the same age as Harrison Ford in Extraordinary Measures, even though Ford is 13 years older -- he hasn't lost a step when it comes to exuding that undeniable movie-star magnetism.
Gibson plays Thomas Craven, a widowed Boston cop who's elated that his grown daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) has come home for a visit. But father and child are only together for a few hours before Emma is brutally murdered. While everyone assumes the assailant was gunning for her dad, the devastated Craven suspects otherwise once he starts snooping around and finds that all signs point toward Emma's former place of employment: Northmoor, a shady corporation with all sorts of underhanded ties to the government. The company's CEO (Danny Huston, who also clocked time in The Constant Gardener) is clearly corrupt, but what's Craven to make of a mysterious English chap named Jedburgh (Ray Winstone), who pops up at odd hours to utter cryptic phrases before disappearing back out of sight?
Edge of Darkness is effective as a cathartic revenge yarn, at least until the absurdities begin to pile up during the final half-hour. Most of the villains are laughable even by the standards of one-dimensional action flicks, while Jedburgh, the most interesting character, requires more scenes in order to make his character arc more believable. Winstone still steals the film through sheer personality, but the script doesn't provide him with much assistance.
As for Gibson, he's just fine in the sort of role that's been his bread-and-butter for the majority of his career: the maverick out to right a massive wrong by any gory means necessary. It's not exactly a fresh interpretation -- one reason the similar Taken works better than this picture is because we're not used to seeing Liam Neeson in such a part -- but it demonstrates that Gibson knows the best way to reconnect with his sizable fan base is by giving them what they expect and nothing more. And now that the edge has been removed from his public persona, can the career resurrection be far behind?