High stakes for Mel Gibson these days. As an actor he’s been off the screen.. and uncomfortably in the headlines.. the past half-dozen years. I’m not the only person wondering if audiences would remember Mel Gibson for what he said on screen.. or for what he said during a drunk driving arrest.
So here he comes in the remake of “Edge of Darkness.” This carefully chosen material calls out all the character elements that define Gibson’s screen work: emotional intensity, a violated sense of right and wrong, and few qualms about a violent response.
Those descriptions apply to Jodie Foster’s work in a Smackdown winner from 2007, “The Brave One.” Both are star-driven revenge movies that rely on lethal remedies when the legal ones fall short.
Police detective Tommy Craven (Gibson) has a surprise guest for dinner, his daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic). She doesn’t look very good and begins vomiting blood onto her dinner plate. Somebody shotguns Emma on the front porch on their way to the emergency room — was she the intended victim, or her dad? That question provides the bounce for everything that follows in “Edge of Darkness.” There are betrayals, cover-ups, shadowy figures and bloody payback as Tommy Craven unravels the radioactive truth that cost Emma’s life. Martin Campbell directed a script from William Monahan and Andrew Bovell based on the BBC series written by Troy Kennedy Martin.
The Defending Champ
Radio host Erica Bain (Foster) and her fiance are attacked in New York Central Park. He dies, she is changed forever. Afraid now, and angry, Erica buys an illegal handgun and looks for revenge. In “The Brave One,” she exacts it on her attackers. Along the way Erica becomes the Angel of Death for predators unrelated to her case. Neil Jordan directed a script from Roderick Taylor, Bruce Taylor and Cynthia Mort.
Both movies show grief transformed in extreme and disturbing ways. No one deserves the horrors laid on these protagonists, but it’s hard to cheer their response. Viewers travel through an troubling moral landscape.
That’s especially true with “The Brave One.” Erica’s attackers deserve as little mercy as they showed her, but what of the punks she nails in the subway or the bodega? This film has a good supporting cast (Terrance Howard, Mary Steenburgen) plus an unintended side element: Jodie Foster’s unwanted distinction in being the real-life object of obsession for would-be presidential assassin John Hinckley.
“Edge of Darkness” faces a different potential challenge: Ticket buyers who may not forgive anti-semitic comments attributed to Gibson for which he apologized. That wasn’t an issue with audience members I encountered in Portland. I asked.
Instead, they mentioned how weathered Gibson looks. And how convincingly he played a revenge-minded dad getting to the bottom of his daughter’s murder. This movie features fine supporting players (Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, Denis O’Hare) and a truly riveting performance by Gibson. Few actors handle emotional outburst as well. Pain and grief and rage carve Grand Canyons into a face that will not easily slip into light comedy anymore. Director Martin Campbell (who directed the original EofD) borrows a ghost motif from the earlier work, having Craven talk with his departed daughter. Hokey, perhaps, but it works.
Do we have a two-time ‘Smackdown winner? No.
“The Brave One” deserves its place in your DVD library. Jodie Foster does an irresistible job as a compact avenger in a world of moral ambiguity. Her action persona suits her. “The Brave One” is well made.
This time, it loses out to stronger material. “Edge of Darkness” has the luxury of getting a “do-over” to rework and improve an earlier version. Director Campbell has clearly ramped up his visual storytelling, although story elements needed shoring up (Craven is a widower in the original; we don’t know what’s become of his wife in the remake, and it’s not explained). That’s a minor quibble. There’s more happening on different levels — so much it’s not a difficult call: “Edge of Darkness” wins out.