EDGE OF DARKNESS
***½/**** Image B+ Sound B+ Extras C+
starring Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, Bojana Novakovic
screenplay by William Monahan and Andrew Bovell, based on the television series by Troy Kennedy Martin
directed by Martin Campbell
WHEN IN ROME
starring Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Will Arnett, Anjelica Huston
screenplay by David Diamond & David Weissman
directed by Mark Steven Johnson
by Ian Pugh Allegedly a radical departure from the BBC miniseries upon which it's based, Martin Campbell's Edge of Darkness works because there's nothing typical about it. Boston PD detective Tom Craven (Mel Gibson) naturally blames himself when his daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) is gunned down by a masked man with a shotgun, but his private inquiry into the matter reveals that Emma herself was the more likely target: it had something to do with her job at a nuclear R&D lab run by sadistic creepshow Jack Bennett (an almost-ridiculously slimy Danny Huston). The trick to Tom's subsequent trip down the rabbit hole is that he never stops blaming himself, even once his quest is validated by the trail of bodies left by both him and the mysterious conspirators pulling the strings. This is Gibson's first starring role in eight years following a lengthy trek through Crazytown, and he might be the only actor who could have pulled it off so flawlessly--simply because there's always been something slightly terrified about his specific brand of martyrdom, something that points to it all being painfully unnecessary.
It's quickly established that there's very little to gain from avenging any of the murders that occur over the course of the narrative, and because the rage depicted is so self-consciously empty, Edge of Darkness truly cannot bring itself to become a revenge fantasy in the Taken mold. It's not right to say that the ghostly visions of Emma keep Tom on the assignment; while the promise of answers hangs over the proceedings, it's disturbed by the knowledge that there's probably nothing to be found at the end of this particular rainbow. ("Deep down, you know you deserve this," Tom tells one of his quarries--which is, finally, the only justification for the picture's sadism.) A nominal action film that boasts fear and exhaustion as its primary exports, Edge of Darkness is the more logical sequel to Campbell's own Casino Royale than the one we actually got, the weight of Bond's declaration "the bitch is dead" resonating with not the leaden vengeance of Quantum of Solace, but the solemn defeat of a man who has had his fill of violence and dead friends. After an agonizing period of mourning, the first of many paths in the hero's investigation begins with a familiar rough-and-tumble fight sequence--and the resultant interrogation isn't tense or exciting, just sweaty and out-of-breath.
I suppose you can call it "exciting" in one manner or another, but it's a rare occurrence for the classic tolls of fantasy violence to manifest themselves on such physical terms: the characters here literally waste away as the situation becomes increasingly dire. There's one perfect shot near the end of Edge of Darkness that sees a zombefied Tom stumbling down the street, gun in hand, driven by some unknown force (righteousness? Malice?) to complete tasks long since rendered irrelevant. The thematic key to the whole thing, however, is the mysterious clean-up man (Ray Winstone) who shows up every now and again for purposes that seem unknown even to him; he shows no interest in delivering the same old threats, instead waxing philosophically on what he's going to leave behind. Edge of Darkness is the movie Tony Gilroy keeps trying to make, and it succeeds because it foregrounds the time lost in the name of abstract purposes rather than the absurdity of the atrocities themselves. The impenetrable complexity of government/corporate conspiracies matters precisely nil when you realize how many precious moments were sacrificed to craft and comb through them. Good guys? Bad guys? Does it really matter where the lines are drawn? (Note that at a pivotal moment, Bennett wears Craven's detective trenchcoat.) It's about where you are and where you've been versus where you were supposed to be. Which, frankly, makes its faux-Spielbergian coda all the more haunting.
Mark Steven Johnson's When in Rome manages its own January surprise--namely, that although its marriage-superstition premise doesn't put it in the same misogynistic league as Leap Year, it's pretty abysmal in its own right. Believing she has lost potential suitor Nick (Josh Duhamel) at her sister's wedding in Rome, Guggenheim curator Beth (Kristen Bell) drowns her sorrows in champagne and steals some coins from the local fountain of love. Soon thereafter, back in New York, she snags not only Nick's attention, but also that of a street magician (Jon Heder), a sausage magnate (Danny DeVito), a Chico Marx-ian painter (Will Arnett), and a conceited model (Dax Shepard). If it seems odd that the director of Daredevil and Ghost Rider should be given the keys to a romantic comedy, take comfort in knowing that When in Rome explains the failure of his superhero films only too well: Johnson has no idea how to stage a scene. Most of When in Rome is devoted to broad slapstick as its players knock over expensive furnishings, walk into trees, and fall into big, gaping holes, with Beth's lifestyle meanwhile facilitating a few derisive glances at some what-the-fuck art pieces (completely without context, of course) and a restaurant that serves its patrons in the dark (i.e., more artsy-fartsy nonsense). It's so broad, in fact, shot with such flat indifference, that you're not entirely convinced anyone knows why it's supposed to be funny. Hardly a mystery, then, how Johnson can waste a wonderful assembly of character actors* (down to the requisite best friends (Bobby Moynihan and Kate Micucci), a pair of fresh faces I'm aching see more of), as the attention is given over to a couple of bland, Hollywood-friendly leads. Originally published: January 29, 2010.
THE BLU-RAY DISC - EDGE OF DARKNESS
Warner brings Edge of Darkness to Blu-ray in a strictly status quo 2.40:1, 1080p transfer. The picture suffers from a mild case of "teal and orange," which will date it faster than any other aspect of its aesthetic--although some footage elsewhere on the disc that hasn't gone through the D/I process yet isn't necessarily preferable, looking cheap and TV-ready as it does. A more objective gripe with the image is that it sometimes has trouble resolving subtle gradations in shadow detail, with the opening shot making a bad first impression by banding as it fades in. That's what happens, I suppose, when you pack a 117-minute film, a 5.1 DTS-HD MA track, and a smattering of HiDef extras onto a single-layer BD-25. Still, budding dermatologists and/or geologists will find plenty to admire in the presentation of Mel Gibson's creased, craggy face. Like Edge of Darkness proper, the soundmix has an explosive temper but is for the most part an exercise in Zen calm; I wish the audio had a bit more muscle, but when a gun goes off, you'll feel it.
Totalling 30 minutes, nine "Focus Points"--"Mel's Back," "Making a Ghost Character Real," "Scoring the Edge of Darkness," "Revisiting the Edge of Darkness Mini-Series," "Adapting the Edge of Darkness," "Thomas Craven's War of Attrition," "Boston as a Character," "Director Profile Martin Campbell," "Edge of Your Seat"--join a 5-minute block of "Deleted & Alternate Scenes" plus startup ephemera (Warner's Blu-ray promo, a Digital Copy spot, the teaser for Sex and the City 2) in rounding out the platter. The documentary material is fairly superficial: although, for instance, both composer Howard Shore and Ray Winstone allude to being last-minute replacements (for John Corigliano and Robert De Niro, respectively), the hows and whys are not forthcoming, while Gibson marvels that director Martin Campbell "covers things in an unorthodox manner" without elaborating further. I did appreciate screenwriter William Monahan's rationale for Craven's daughter appearing to him as a little girl instead of as the young woman she was at the time of her death, and Campbell's delectable, too-brief anecdotes about working for the BBC made me want to see a longer piece devoted to the impressive programming and alumni the network churned out in the 1980s.
As for the elisions, they mostly fall on the "alternate" side of the equation and show wise creative decisions in the reshooting/reconceptualizing of two key moments: when Ray Winstone's Jedburgh is hired, a meeting changed from a sunny golf course to a Deep Throat garage; and when Craven pulls Bennett over, an encounter that initially worked too hard to justify itself. The keepcase also contains a DVD-based Digital Copy of the flick. Originally published: May 10, 2010.
*Excepting the reliably awful Heder, it should go without saying.