“Because today… I’m gonna kill the motherfucker!” In that sentence, the “I” is Anthony Hopkins, and the “motherfucker” is a Kodiak bear. The movie is 1997’s The Edge, a peculiar survivalist adventure with a script by David Mamet. Hearing words like that come out of Hopkins, the most archly patrician of actors—playing to type here as an introspective billionaire—gives the line an extra punch, because the journey there is much longer for him than most. And it’s a credit to Mamet, a writer forever concerned with the world of men and their animal natures, that he could deliver an actor like Hopkins to the point where he loses his aristocratic air and becomes the swarthiest of heroes, ready to do battle with a motherfucking bear. Let that be a warning: If any raccoons dare get within the vicinity of Howards End, they should know what’s coming to them.
It’s a shame The Edge wasn’t also directed by Mamet, whose economic style might have cut the fat from a film that behaves too much like a conventional Hollywood thriller. Those duties were handed over to New Zealand director Lee Tamahori, who must have seemed like a natural choice based on his 1994 breakthrough Once Were Warriors, a forceful tale of masculinity and violence among Maori. But Tamahori’s workmanlike production doesn’t match the elemental power of Mamet’s script, and it fails to evoke the harsh physical conditions that turn ordinary, civilized men into resourceful survivalists and predators.
Nevertheless, Hopkins does fine work as a billionaire stranded in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness with a smarmy photographer, played by Alec Baldwin. The early scenes establish a seething rivalry between the two men over Hopkins’ statuesque wife (Elle Macpherson)—to the point where Hopkins asks Baldwin “How are you going to kill me?” before their plane goes down—but it’s put on hold as they rely on each other to make it out of the woods alive. As it happens, the book-smart Hopkins has accumulated a lot of knowledge about living in the wild, but his cunning is tested when he and Baldwin face off against a relentless, bloodthirsty bear. (He’s played by “Bart The Bear,” in perhaps the greatest of his many star turns, including appearances in The Bear, On Deadly Ground, and The Great Outdoors.)
Beyond a stock of punchy Mametisms—Baldwin: “A month ago, old Smokey here would’ve reared up, you probably would’ve called your lawyer.” Hopkins: “Nah, I wouldn’t do that to an animal.”—The Edge remains gripping mostly because of Hopkins, who suggests a blueblood secretly excited to be in mortal peril. In the woods, he’s no longer a billionaire with the resources to do anything he likes, but simply a human being relying solely on his wits and instinct. Tamahori doesn’t have the chops to give his transformation the Straw Dogs treatment it deserves, but The Edge is an interesting footnote in the Mamet canon, manifesting in brute force what he generally expresses in words.
Key features: Apart from trailers for other Fox Blu-ray titles, nada.