Mel Gibson has been away from the cameras for a while, and he appears a little scuffed up in Edge Of Darkness, his first starring role since Signs in 2002. He looks greyer and craggier than before, and his stiff movements make it easy to forget his former athletic grace. Whatever the source of that wear and tear, it at least helps him look the part in this revenge thriller, which casts him as a Boston cop looking for answers after seeing his daughter (Bojana Novakovic) gunned down on his own front porch. Director Martin Campbell, adapting a well-regarded BBC miniseries he directed in 1985, goes further than merely failing to hide the ravages of time, trouble, and hard living. He puts his diminutive tough-guy star next to actors who tower over him, in shots that subtly drive home the same point: As often as we’ve seen Gibson get out of scrapes in the past, his odds don’t look so good this time.
Those choices serve the film, too, which compels Gibson—sporting a thick, occasionally believable Boston accent—to unravel a far-reaching conspiracy involving his daughter’s employer, a private industrial concern overseen by a silky, amoral Danny Huston, whose character needs only a mute Korean manservant to qualify him for a supervillain license. With each lead Gibson follows, he discovers he’s taken on not a dragon, but a many-headed hydra.
Edge Of Darkness gathers all the elements of a smart, politically resonant thriller, but leaves them only half-assembled. That might partly be due to the need to compress a sprawling plot into a two-hour frame; a pattern of investigation, interrogation, exposition, fisticuffs, and repetition takes over the movie after a while. But it’s mostly because Gibson crowds out anyone and anything competing with the displays of righteous fury he’s leaned on since Braveheart. In spite of attempts to make him seem vulnerable—which include a bunch of maudlin conversations with his character’s dead daughter—this is really a movie about the power, and grim pleasure, taken by a man building up a static charge of rage as he searches for the right target. Huston, Ray Winstone (playing a puppetmaster of puppetmasters), and other recognizable faces all do fine character work, but Edge Of Darkness quickly devolves into another showcase for Gibson’s snorting-bull act, a routine he could happily have shelved during his time off.