There’s something very satisfying about revenge plots. They speak to all those moments when each viewer was wronged in his or her personal life, like getting cutoff on the road, picked on as a kid, mugged or any other experience that gave the victim pause to imagine righteous vengeance on the perpetrator. Revenge films allow viewers to fulfill that fantasy, except to the nth degree. Edge of Darkness features a revenge plot, which is satisfying, though a touch over-convoluted. Thankfully, the cast performs exceedingly well, making up for any of the shortcomings.
Craven (Mel Gibson) is a Boston police officer whose somewhat estranged daughter, Emma (Bojana Novakovic), decides to visit him for some family time. She’s obviously sick, but she assures Craven that she simply has the flu – until her nose starts bleeding profusely and she vomits soupy bile and has to go to the hospital. Before Craven can get her to medical attention, a masked man attempts to kill Craven, but misses and kills Emma instead. Now Craven has to discover why someone wants him dead and bring his daughter’s killer to justice. His investigation puts him in contact with strange bedfellows, like the mysterious freelance fixer Jedburgh (Ray Winstone) and leads him to dark places – both literally and psychologically.
Edge of Darkness is a rich movie and goes beyond the simple revenge tale to tell a story about people defining the situation rather than the other way around. At its core, this film is about families and the relationships between parents and children (or lack thereof). The dialog is constantly reminding the audience – sometimes bluntly – of this theme. Nevertheless, this extra layer of familial ties gives every scene extra meaning and makes Craven a constantly sympathetic protagonist.
The direction is solid overall, but does have a few standout moments. The first act is particularly well-done. Even though the audience is fully expecting something terrible to happen to Craven’s daughter in order to begin the revenge tale, the moment it happens is still shocking. Director Martin Campbell is able to seamlessly swing the mood from comforting to alarming to horrifying. The different sets also manage to look fantastic even though they’re mainstays of these kinds of films, like the cheery suburban home littered with bric-a-brac and the sterile and Spartan lair of the bad guy, overlooking his vast empire.
The writing is both excellent and confusing. Characters are very believable and do the things average audiences would expect average people to do. When Craven’s daughter dies in his arms he tries to say a few benedictions for her, but can’t remember the words. When his cop buddy tries to offer support right after the murder he says the things that hint at a longstanding relationship and the scene just feels natural. On the other hand, sometimes scenes feel idiotic when characters don’t settle the situation directly. For some reason the bad guy refuses to have Craven killed, but doesn’t have a problem with killing people who are contextual to him. Craven could also do with some “taking the shot when you have it” advice as well. These complaints break the film somewhat during the climax where characters that were eager to kill suddenly don’t draw their weapons, while previously level-headed characters become trigger-happy. Still, the screenwriters can’t necessarily be blamed for this strange character behavior since the story is imported from a British television show of the same name. Though it seems that screenwriter William Monahan has a penchant for re-setting stories in Boston as he did with The Departed. As a side note, it’s impressive that while Republicans are demonized in Edge of Darkness, Fox News was painted in a favorable light.
Thankfully, the cast is very strong. Mel Gibson demonstrates his years of experience. While some of his reactions look all too familiar from previous films, his performance definitely sells every emotion. Danny Huston plays a delicious villain – cold and inhuman. His detachment from humanity is palpable as he fingers his wedding ring and asks Craven with rapt attention what it feels like to lose a child. Ray Winstone also does a fine job with his moral ambiguity, but it’d be nice if he enunciated a little better.
All in all, Edge of Darkness is a satisfying revenge tale that manages to break the January release curse with competent direction, excellent acting and an interesting script. This is one of those rare films where audiences will enjoy the little details more than the big actions. They just have to know to look for them.