Tangled up in Clues

Edge of Darkness
Running time 117 minutes
Written by William Monahan
and Andrew Bovell
Directed by Martin Campbell
Starring  Mel Gibson,  Ray Winstone,
Bojana Novakovic, Danny Huston, Denis O’Hare

For obvious reasons—some of them having to do with controversial offscreen behavior and a career in search of damage control—Mel Gibson desperately needs a good movie. His fans need to see him in one. I am sorry to report that Edge of Darkness is not it.

Few things are more annoying to me than new movies that blatantly steal the titles of older and better films, on the assumption that today’s moviegoers are too stupid to know the difference. Pity the poor fool who goes to this garbage thinking it’s the great 1943 film of the same title by Lewis Milestone, with Errol Flynn, Ann Sheridan, Walter Huston, Judith Anderson, Helmut Dantine and Ruth Gordon, about the harrowing experiences of the World War II underground freedom fighters during the Nazi occupation of Norway, even though both films were made by Warner Brothers. What they should have done is burn this new, incomprehensible mishmash and rerelease the old one. Bearing resemblance in neither theme nor importance, the one we suffer through now is an incompetent espionage thriller, and trust me—never has the word been used more loosely.

Based on a silly 1985 BBC TV series that tried to terrify England about the threat of Russia’s nuclear policy, and updated by a number of people who worked on Martin Scorsese’s Boston cop drama The Departed (including screenwriter William Monahan), Edge of Darkness is again set in the city of tea parties and baked beans, but there is nothing revolutionary or tasty about it. Mr. Gibson, who is growing facial lines like lichens, plays Tom Craven, a tough, widowed Boston detective with a 24-year-old daughter named Emma, who works for a top-secret government corporation called Northmoor that makes illegal nuclear weapons under the heading of classified priority stuff, weapons that might be sold to all the wrong people, like Osama Bin Laden. (Oh, the things our country is up to that nobody knows about. It makes you wonder how President Obama gets through the day without a breakdown.) Home on a visit, Emma vomits a lot, then gets gunned down on the front steps in her father’s arms. Everyone assumes the bullets were meant for Dad, who has a lot of enemies. But he launches his own investigation and discovers a mind-boggling tangle of intrigue that threatens national security and takes him to the dark side of political crime, corporate coverups and murder. Oblivious to the danger and always relying on a cop’s logic, he wipes her blood off his face and saves it for forensics. A fatal mistake, as we soon find out.

Suddenly, Dad starts throwing up, too—in the sink, in the toilet and not always in the most convenient spots for people on an expense account. He also starts seeing Emma everywhere, like the little murder victim in The Lovely Bones who tries to help her own distraught father find her killer. The script, which is a blueprint for confusion, follows Mr. Gibson, clue by clue, lead by lead, never explaining anything more than he knows at any given moment in the case; meanwhile, every person he interviews meets a violent end. If Emma was only a research assistant in an electronics lab, why did she carry a Geiger counter? Why does it rock and roll every time Mel opens the refrigerator door? Keep your eye on the milk bottle.

It is never clear what Northmoor was doing backing the campaign of a Massachusetts senator; why the head of the lab (John Huston’s son Danny) is draped in custom-made Brioni suits; who a cold-blooded enigma named Darius (Ray Winstone, the only Brit in the cast) is or what he’s doing hanging around Mr. Gibson’s backyard; or why Emma’s boyfriend and co-worker at Northmoor locks himself in his apartment and goes bananas every time his cell phone rings. From the muted, washed-out color to the beat-up Humphrey Bogart raincoat Mr.Gibson wears in every scene, everything in the movie is contrived and pointless. The direction, by Martin Campbell (Casino Royale), is like bad television without coffee breaks. [Ed note: Spoiler alert!] The radiation poisoning in the milk is declared “unsurvivable,” and sure enough, by the end, every single person in the movie is dead except Mel Gibson, who walks out of the radioactive intensive care unit and joins arms with daughter Emma and disappears, so I guess that means he’s dead, too. No wonder one wag at the screening I attended called the movie Death by Milk. Alfred Hitchcock had so much more fun with the poison milk idea in Suspicion.

Mel Gibson stepped in after Robert De Niro, the original star, dropped out early. Apparently, he’s smarter than I ever imagined.


Tangled up in Clues