My guess is that a lot of critics and, in particular, box-office prognosticators, are taking a very noncommittal approach to Mel Gibson’s first turn in front of the screen in seven years. How very fucking professional of them — who would want to be on the wrong side of the box-office receipts come Monday, right? Well, here’s my noncommittal approach: Fuck Mel Gibson and fuck this movie.
In the nearly four years since his little DUI incident, there have been a lot of jokes made about Gibson and his remarks. Those jokes, in turn, have hidden what’s really underneath it all. It’s hard to hate a guy if you’re too busy laughing at him. Moreover, as long as he was out of the public eye, we could sort of revel in the fact that the man got his comeuppance. But now he’s back, and in those years of absence, did he apologize? Did he have his big Oprah moment? Was there anything besides a quick trip to rehab to suggest that he didn’t mean what he said? Not really.
Mel Gibson made some insidious suggestions about Jewish people not so long after doing a poor job of defending himself for making what many consider an anti-Semitic film in The Passion of the Christ. Maybe that means nothing to you, but it does to me. The fact that he was drunk when he made those remarks really should have little bearing — it really just meant he was being more open about his feelings than his sober mind would allow. Does that make him David Duke? Maybe not, but since when were there degrees of hate? The truth is, sugartits: He doesn’t like an entire ethnoreligious group for no apparent reason other than the fact they are Jewish. In my book, that makes him an anti-Semite.
Does he deserve forgiveness? Maybe. Maybe you’re willing to look past your personal differences and see Edge of Darkness out of loyalty to Riggs or William Wallace or Mad Max. But a $30 million opening isn’t forgiveness. That’s a fucking reward. And if you’re going to reward an actor for being a piece of shit in real life, at least do it for a movie worthwhile enough to ease your conscience. If there’s some sort of balancing scale between entertainment value and the despicable personal beliefs of its star, then the latter is sitting on the side of the see-saw that’s three feet in the goddamn ground.
In Edge of Darkness, Gibson plays Thomas Craven, a Boston police detective with a crappy Maine accent. After picking his daughter up at the train station and bringing her back to his place for the night, his daughter suddenly develops a nose bleed and begins upchucking into her soup. As Craven is rushing his daughter out the door to get her to the E.R., some dude drives by and puts a half-a-pound of buckshot in her abdomen. She dies, and Craven gets angry, which means 110 more minutes of Mel Gibson shouty exclamations.
The expectation going in here is that Edge of Darkness would probably play like Mel Gibson’s Taken, only set in Boston. If only we were so lucky. The first two-and-half acts of the movie are much less about kicking in doors and throwing elbows and more about climbing up the ladder of a corporate conspiracy. It’s apparent early on — even before his daughter is murdered — that the killing had nothing to do with Craven or his police work. His daughter was involved in something that got her killed. That something had to do with chemicals and biological weapons and a huge government conspiracy that went all the way up to a Massachusetts’ Republican Senator (a Republican Senator in Massachusetts? That’s absurd … oh wait). So, Mel Gibson’s Craven spends most of the movie driving around, yelling at people, and glowering.
Spoilers, I Guess
It all ends, of course, in the way that revenge flicks should end — a balls-out retarded series of shoot-outs that actually might have been awesome (if you’re into brutal mayhem) if not for the fact it’s so completely out of character with the rest of the film. Imagine if John Travolta’s character in A Civil Action spent most of the movie investigating cancer-causing chemicals, but instead of settling up for his big pay day in court, he just went into the CEO’s home and starting shooting people. That’s about what The Edge of Darkness amounts to, only add in a level of violence you’ve come to expect from Gibson’s directorial efforts. A bullet in the temple is not quite good enough, not when an explosion of the eye orbit and a spray of blood out the back of the head would do (I don’t have anything against the violence, really, except for how badly it jibes tonally with the rest of the film).
I expected better from director Martin Campbell, but then I remembered that he’s basically coasted on a couple of Bond films that had less to do with him than they did the franchise. Edge of Darkness is better aligned with his work in the Antonio Banderas’ Zorro franchise — not in tone, but in hackery. It’s probably what we can expect from Green Lantern, too. The muddled script from William Monahan and Andrew Bovell doesn’t help matters — it’s essentially a road-trip thriller masquerading as a corporate conspiracy flick. You never get a particularly good sense of a father’s violent loss of his daughter, either, from Gibson, who mostly barks and grunts between the occasional fight scene.
Edge of Darkness is a fairly dull film, at least until the completely absurd final half hour, at which point in morphs from tedious to laughable. It lacks suspense; it’s convoluted in such a way as to basically hide the fact that there’s nothing beneath it all; and there’s barely enough action in it to justify Gibson’s involvement. But then again, if you ask me, nothing really justifies his involvement except a system that’s more concerned with a big-name star and the cash he brings than decency. But then again, what else is new.