Magazine February 22, 2010, Issue

Unhappy Returns

(Warner Bros.)
A review of Edge of Darkness

There’s a fine line between be­ing a crazy, paranoid, violence-obsessed genius, and just being plain old crazy. In the first half of the 2000s, Mel Gibson managed to stay (just barely, sometimes) on the genius side of the line. His obvious instability was balanced, if not excused, by the weird, mad brilliance of his two self-financed directorial efforts, The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto. Sure, he grew a Jeremiah Johnson beard and said bizarre things to interviewers, but he also made two of the decade’s most distinctive, arresting, and uncompromising movies — with subtitles, no less!

By the time Apocalypto hit theaters, though, Gibson had delivered his famous post-DUI tirade against the international Jewish conspiracy, offered his round of apologies, and vanished from the public eye. In the next four years, there were no more movies; instead, there was a mis­tress, a love child, and the end of his 29-year marriage. The rant against the Jews cemented his reputation as an anti-Semite. The mistress and the divorce demolished his credibility with The Passion’s religious fan base. And the absence of any creative work made it easy to forget about Gibson’s talent, and remember only his nuttiness.

Sad to say, his return to theaters as the star of this month’s Edge of Darkness isn’t likely to improve his reputation. Gibson didn’t direct the thriller, but it still feels like a Mel movie. There’s the man-on-a-mission plot, the bone-crunching violence, and the air of martyrdom; there are echoes of Braveheart and the Lethal Weapon saga, Conspiracy Theory and The Passion. What’s missing, unfortunately, is original­ity, intelligence, and narrative coherence — not to mention anything resembling art.

With a better script, the plot could have been straightforward and grimly satisfying. Gibson plays Craven, a widowed Bos­ton cop, whose daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) is gunned down on his door­step, by bullets that everyone assumes were meant for him. But it quickly be­comes apparent that Emma had more enemies than her father. She was an intern for Northmoor, a shady Massachusetts-based outpost of the military-industrial complex, where she uncovered a Vast Conspiracy, tried to do something about it, and ended up at the wrong end of a professional rubout.

The only question is whodunit. Was it the eco-terrorist group Nightflower, to whom Emma turned for help? Or her jumpy, guilty-seeming boyfriend? Or Northmoor’s chief executive, embodied by Danny Huston, who excels at playing characters with something of the night about them? Or perhaps the mysterious Darius Jedburgh (Ray Winstone), a British-accented spook who hovers around the proceedings, trailing smoke from his cigars? Or even Sen. Jim Pine, a Massa­chusetts Republican (!) with incriminating ties to Northmoor?

#page#Where the senator’s implausible party affiliation is concerned, I suppose that Edge of Darkness deserves points for prescience, even if the sinister Pine seems more like a John Kerry–esque Brahmin than a Scott Brown populist. And the cucumber-cool Jedburgh is an amusing fillip of a character, carried off with pure attitude by Winstone.

But the rest of the film is a dreadful mess. The mystery is basically resolved before the movie is half over: You know roughly how Emma died and why, and the only question is how long it will take the bad guys to realize that Craven’s on to them, and how long it will take him to wreak his vengeance.

The answer, unfortunately, is quite a while. The script is adapted and condensed from a six-hour 1980s British miniseries — with War on Terror conspiracy theories replacing Thatcher-era nuclear-power panic — but somebody should have condensed things a bit more. Every time you think the movie will take a clever turn, it takes a stupid one instead. The good guys leave obvious leads unfollowed and self-evident stratagems untried. The bad guys murder some characters for no apparent reason, leave obvious targets very much alive, and engage in a hilarious kind of overkill when it finally comes time to take the fight to Craven. In the movie’s closing scenes, he’s variously poisoned, beaten, shot at, kidnapped — and, perhaps worst of all, threatened with a long, drawn-out court battle in the litigious state of Massa­chusetts.

The lawsuit aside, this cascade of agony is quintessential Gibson. But it’s Gibson without any of the qualities that make his better movies fascinating. Edge of Darkness offers violence without weight, paranoia without insight, and martyrdom without a deeper meaning. If you’re in­clined to dismiss Mad Mel as an artless masochist, you won’t find anything here to change your mind. And if you’ve been hoping that he’d emerge from his four-year hiatus with a movie worthy of his talent, you’re in for a grim, unthrilling disappointment.

In This Issue

Articles

Politics & Policy

Professor of Contempt

With Howard Zinn, contemporary American academia found its court historian. Zinn, who died January 27 at 87, was like a gigantic echo chamber, accurately reproducing — and actively re­inforcing — ...
Politics & Policy

‘Not True’

From all of the uproar surrounding the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, you would think that an activist Court had excised the Bill of ...
Politics & Policy

Docs and Doctorates

A report from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) lists 29 state studies that warn of looming physician shortages. Twenty-one specialty-specific studies and at least six national reports characterize ...

Features

Politics & Policy

Senator Tea Party

Jim DeMint wasn’t looking forward to his conversation with Arlen Specter last spring, but he didn’t want to avoid his Senate colleague, either. The Republican from South Carolina had decided ...
Politics & Policy

The Way of the Whigs?

Scott Brown’s improbable win in the Mas­sa­chu­setts Senate election is the latest and most dramatic evidence of the Republicans’ greatly improved electoral outlook. As polls have shown dissatisfaction with President ...
Politics & Policy

Fatted Leviathan

The collapse of the housing market has been an object lesson for America. Households and banks borrowed too much on expectations of continuing appreciation in real-estate prices. This extra borrowing ...

Books, Arts & Manners

Politics & Policy

Men of Letters

Dubious legend has it that the world’s first letter was written by Queen Atossa of Per­sia, daughter of Cyrus the Great, in the sixth century B.C. We do know that ...
Politics & Policy

Back to Basics

For many today, the American Revolution was primarily a mil­itary campaign. But the “real American Revolution,” John Adams insisted, “was in the minds and hearts of the people,” transforming their ...
Politics & Policy

Unhappy Returns

There’s a fine line between be­ing a crazy, paranoid, violence-obsessed genius, and just being plain old crazy. In the first half of the 2000s, Mel Gibson managed to stay (just ...
The Straggler

Second Childhood

‘All those years we thought we were building Com­mu­nism! Actually they’ve built Communism right here in the U.S.A.!” This gets the biggest laugh of the evening. All seven of us in ...

Sections

Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ Air America has ceased operations: Talent on loan from God still trumps talent on loan from Al Franken. ‐ Scott Brown, a dodgy economy, deficits big as the Rockies: The ...
The Long View

From the Pelosi inbox . . .

TO:  Dianne@speakersoffice.gov FROM: NP@speakersoffice.gov RE: I’m hungry Hey Dianne . . . Hate to bother you, but I’m sitting here in my office and suddenly craving something sweet. Can you handle this? Thnx . ...
Politics & Policy

Poetry

AT THE RECEPTION Up there, the braids were dark and round. The skirt was slanting from the ground. So suavely rocked she, swift but still, Bride like a bell tower, like God’s will. How strangely ...
Happy Warrior

Recluseland

I’m not sure I’m the go-to guy for a disquisition on The Catcher in the Rye, but I confess I was always intrigued by the J. D. Salinger lifestyle, at ...
Politics & Policy

Letters

The Book of Heston In “The Week” of National Review’s February 8 edition, the editors write that “people came to think that foreign slaves built the pyramids” because they were “influenced ...

Most Popular

Elections

The Highest-Stakes Moment Brings the Worst Debate

Tonight’s debate would have been only marginally less incoherent, noisy, and grating to the ears if CBS had broadcast two hours of static. The last debate before the South Carolina primary featured so much shouting, you would think that the candidates had just been told their microphones weren’t working. ... Read More
Elections

The Highest-Stakes Moment Brings the Worst Debate

Tonight’s debate would have been only marginally less incoherent, noisy, and grating to the ears if CBS had broadcast two hours of static. The last debate before the South Carolina primary featured so much shouting, you would think that the candidates had just been told their microphones weren’t working. ... Read More
Media

‘Undiagnosed Sociopath’

As we abandon moral language for clinical language, we run into technical difficulties. Writing in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman describes the 2020 presidential election as one that may be a contest between “a self-proclaimed socialist and an undiagnosed sociopath.” There is no such thing as an ... Read More
Media

‘Undiagnosed Sociopath’

As we abandon moral language for clinical language, we run into technical difficulties. Writing in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman describes the 2020 presidential election as one that may be a contest between “a self-proclaimed socialist and an undiagnosed sociopath.” There is no such thing as an ... Read More