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Film of the Day: Edge of Darkness (2010)

July 12, 2010 by Simon Kinnear in At Home with 0 Comments

Film of the day – for all the wrong reasons.

I’ve never been much of a Mel Gibson fan. Sure, the early Lethal Weapons are a blast and I have a sneaking admiration for the sheer insanity of The Passion of the Christ, but he’s never been a draw for me. Too grumpy, too much of a martyr complex…and that’s just in his on-screen choices.

Off-screen, of course, he’s been busy redefining the depths that a rich and powerful mega-star will stoop to in order to piss everybody off. No doubt you’ve heard, or at least read about, his racist, abusive tirade against his ex. In typical sequel logic, it’s bigger, louder and even more shit than previous incidents in Gibbo’s back catalogue.

And all of this only months after making his comeback as a leading man, in this year’s remake of revered British telly drama Edge of Darkness. Well, this time he really is going to struggle to make a comeback. His bonkers-sounding The Beaver, about a man using a hand-puppet to ‘tell it like it is,’ is pretty much certain to be tainted by association. Worse, it means we’ll have to put up with Gibson’s woe-is-me grumpy face in the papers until the end of eternity. Don’t expect any more smiles. The wind has changed. He’s going to stay that way.

And, of course, I’m delighted. Really pleased. Because it was my misfortune to see Edge of Darkness a few months back, and ever since I’ve been hoping Gibson was going to crawl back inside whatever hole he’s been hiding in since his last screen appearances. (Now we know: it was his asshole.)

Because seriously, you can’t turn the third best TV mini-series ever* into a turgid mix of ‘who cares?’ info-dumpage and grumpy-faced Gibson belligerence, and then expect to come crying to me with it all goes Sugartits-up. To coin a phrase, I hope you get [severely reprimanded] by a pack of [irate classic telly fans].

* Behind G.B.H. and I, Claudius, if you’re interested. Anybody thinking of remaking either of those better stop right this instant, or I’ll set Gibson on you.

As ever, tread lightly. Occasional spoilers ahead, especially if you’ve never seen the original. And if not, why not? It’s superb.

Edge of Darkness
(Martin Campbell, US, 2010)

Losing his Edge. Campbell’s surreal, subversive original is a masterpiece (go watch it); the truncated remake is a by-rote Mel Gibson revenge thriller.

Tricky things to get right, the TV-to-film adaptation. For starters, where do you lose those extra hours? State of Play managed the trick recently by narrowing the focus, cutting the politics and concentrating on the investigation. Edge of Darkness, bafflingly, fails for doing more or less the same thing.

This should have been so much better. Uniquely, the original’s director and producer are on board, assisting The Departed team of screenwriter William Monaghan and producer Graham King: on paper, an ideal synthesis of old and new. Yet maybe it’s that tussle that causes the problems. The film cannot break free of its source material.

That’s most obvious in the subject itself. In 1985, nuclear power was the big topic: the titular darkness that hovered over every major policy decision. The notion that something so powerful, so deadly, was being outsourced to cost-cutting private enterprise by an unscrupulous free-market government was terrifying, and the drama reverberated with implications far beyond the central who-dun-what plotline. Here, there’s no such resonance, bar talk of terrorists…and those muddy waters are cleansed into a generic rogue corporation threat. One casualty is ambiguous CIA op Darius Jedburgh, the great character of the original; in a clever casting twist, the lone American this time around becomes sole Brit Ray Winstone, but nobody can figure out why he needs to be involved in this version of the story beyond speeding things by nudging Craven in the right direction.

Thus simplified, the story loses those incremental stakes whereby each new revelation plunges Craven into a new circle of hell. Here, he’s found out who the bad guys are, and pretty much what the issues are, after a couple of chats with bit-part info-dump characters. The slow-burn satisfaction of telly doesn’t work in a three-act film: it needs action to explicate these things, and by and large it’s absent… Until the film has an identity crisis halfway through, and realises that Mel Gibson isn’t supposed to go softly softly.

The second hour is a standard issue Gibson revenge thriller, made novel by the sheer length of time the star has been off-screen: he looks craggy, frail – to coin a phrase, he’s too old for this shit. Otherwise, it’s Mad Max, Ransom, Payback… Putting on his angry face, waving guns in people’s faces and punching them to the ground. What’s annoying is that this default Lethal Weapon pose is chosen instead of the memorable set-pieces from the original Edge, some of the most nerve-shredding sequences ever devised. Why the hell did they chose a narrative that didn’t include the scene where Craven has his daughter’s killer at gunpoint, about to confess, only for him to be blown away by trigger-happy authorities? Or the climactic intel-gathering assault on the Northmoor nuclear power complex itself? – a gift of an ending that this curiously ignores in favour of a standard-issue shoot-up.

The only conclusion that can reasonably be drawn is that Martin Campbell, director of both versions, suddenly had an attack of qualms about remaking his own work. If that’s the case…seriously, dude, wrong time to have a crisis of nerve. Don’t forget that Campbell successfully rebooted the James Bond series not once but twice – with Goldeneye and Casino Royale – so he has form in terms of reinventing (and improving) the second time around. But here, the dithering over what to include and what to change leaves the film looking simultaneously sluggish and rushed, a far cry from the original’s inexorable grip.

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