A cursory description of the reasonably gripping and admission price-rewarding Edge of Darkness is one thing. (It’s a tightly wrought pastiche of familiar multiplex cinema tropes, including the avenging-father theme, the whistle-blowing investigation going to alarmingly high places yarn, and the one about the lone wolf getting the job done—with firearms tucked in his trench coat.) Darkness is all those things, yes, and clearly benefits from Martin Campbell’s crisp direction of an intriguing script cowritten by William (The Departed) Monahan and Howard Shore’s impressive, and impressively cliché-dodging, musical score.
But, at least in the current cultural-historical moment, this film shall be known as the comeback vehicle for the Mighty Mel. This is Gibson’s first film as a lead actor since 2002’s Signs. In the interim, he has been busy becoming a fascinatingly offbeat filmmaker, making cinema’s greatest (and most violent) crucifixion movie and a rare Mayan action film (The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto, respectively). Meanwhile, ugly real-life episodes involving a DUI and accusations of anti-Semitism put Gibson on shaky ground with the Hollywood status quo. When, in the new film, he utters the line “nobody expects you to be perfect, but there are a few things you gotta get right,” our stubborn reality-based sensors go pinging.
That said, appreciating the strengths of Edge of Darkness requires viewers to look past the tabloid noise and come to the realization that Gibson has a special skill and brute charm in certain screen roles. This is one of them. With his more weathered, sobered air, Gibson is precisely the right guy for this role about a Boston cop whose daughter is bloodily offed, leading him along a trail of discoveries about her life and the skullduggery in a private nuclear research firm.
We know there will be hell to pay, of course, and Gibson delivers justice in his quiet, sure way, without the help of the authorities. But there are little surprises and deviations from formula along the way, as well, not the least of which is Ray Winstone’s slickly villainous yet disarmingly cool and philosophical character—the first fascinating villain in the 2010 movie roster. But still, all eyes and senses are fixed to Mel. Love him or lump him, he’s a true player into the new decade.