Scary but true: I really liked Edge of Darkness

If I were feeling particularly honest I’d have to confess that I didn’t think Edge of Darkness would be any good. Director Martin Campbell did direct two of the best Bond movies in recent memory (and maybe the best one ever with Casino Royale ) but the presence of Mel Gibson was a major turn-off — not because of his film presence which I actually enjoy but more because the assorted scandals of the last few years soured me on him. That one South Park episode didn’t help my biases either.

The movie’s opening didn’t help much with Gibson’s Boston accent and his powerful fatherly love providing ample targets for cynicism. But then it got me. The story started unfolding the tone got increasingly grim and I found myself wondering why I was enjoying it as much as I was. It has its faults — overacting from some underacting from others and a reluctance to stray too far from formula are usually enough to derail any thriller. And yet when I walked out I realized that the only thing I wanted changed was the last 20 seconds — which feel like shoe-horned test-marketed redemption.

The rest is unrelenting noir unfolding the way classic noir is supposed to unfold — with lots of dialogue measured violence and occasional bursts of sadism. Campbell may not be devoted to realism necessarily but he clearly knows how to make violence visceral. The fights in Edge of Darkness are brief brutal and to the point. This is what it looks like when people want to hurt each other; Gibson doesn’t interject with Lethal Weapon one-liners or Payback ’s self-awareness. He just gets his answers and stays one step ahead of the inevitable.

In fact his Thomas Craven (a name that seems oddly popular for bad-ass characters given that it means “cowardly”) feels in many ways like Sam Spade with a legitimate police badge. He’s smarter than he lets on trusts no one and isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. The fact that he’s reacting to his daughter’s death only puts his flat exterior in sharper relief — and many parts of Gibson’s performance are legitimately subtle a far cry from the “Gimme back my son!” ridiculousness of Ransom . And this time the odds really do seem stacked against him — Campbell puts Gibson’s relatively diminutive frame to good use in a number of scenes where his adversaries tower over him.

I’m not saying Edge of Darkness is in the same league as The Maltese Falcon . What I am saying is that it’s worth watching. It has the comforting structure of a classic noir a reasonably explicable political-thriller storyline (shades of Kiss Me Deadly ?) and enough confidence to wrap up its loose ends without ever fully explaining them. And that’s not even getting into Ray Winstone’s deeply charismatic turn as a beyond-classified problem solver a character who could easily carry another film on his own.

On the other hand the people behind me leaving the theatre were thankful they didn’t pay to watch the movie and mentioned wanting the last two hours of their lives back. So maybe it’s just me. But if pressed I could say a whole lot more in the movie’s defense — I’m just trying to avoid giving away too much.