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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

David Mamet and man-eating bears go surprisingly well together

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Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: With Wild hiking into theaters, we’ve lined up a series of films about people braving the great outdoors.


The Edge (1997)

For a David Mamet-scripted movie about two men who lust after the same woman, The Edge doesn’t overflow with the expected surplus of testosterone. In fact, the movie plays a bit like a Mamet play removed from the stage and dropped into the wilderness, unsure how to proceed with its usual mind-games and one-upmanship.

Mamet and director Lee Tamahori begin with billionaire Charles Morse (Anthony Hopkins) accompanying his wife Mickey (Elle Macpherson) on a modeling job in Alaska. He wonders about the intentions of the brash photographer, Bob Green (Alec Baldwin), but nonetheless agrees to join him on a smaller side trip, further into the wild. When their plane goes down, Charles, Bob, and Bob’s assistant, Stephen (Harold Perrineau), are forced to fight for their survival. Charles, an avid reader, has been planning for this situation his entire life—he’s a theoretical outdoorsman who’s never needed the knowledge he continues to accumulate. Unsmiling for much of the first section of the film, Charles becomes, if not exactly gleeful, fully engaged with his environment when testing out his abilities.

Mamet is smart about limiting the resourcefulness of his characters; even when they seem ingenious, Charles and the others all make crucial mistakes. Compounding these problems, a Kodiak bear (Hollywood mainstay Bart The Bear, in one of his final “performances”) gets on their trail and proves difficult to shake. Even with Charles providing sometimes-unsteady leadership, the movie doesn’t always place the conflict between him and Bob in the foreground; the bear keeps charging through before they can hash out their potential human rivalry.

Though that relationship roils below the surface for much of the running time, The Edge nonetheless gives Baldwin plenty of opportunities to luxuriate in Mamet dialogue beyond his 10 minutes in Glengarry Glen Ross; of the two leading actors, he’s the one who gets more of the writer’s signature profanities and repetitions. Hopkins, for his part, underplays rather than chewing on the beautiful Alaskan scenery. The opacity of his character means that the relationship between Charles and Bob develops as an additional undercurrent of tension, running beneath more immediate and pressing matters of survival. As a result, two familiar types of stories receive elements that freshen them up: a wilderness adventure gets the pleasures of Mamet witticisms, while Mamet’s world gets an unexpected dose of improvised bear traps.

Availability: The Edge is available on Blu-ray and DVD, which can be obtained through Netflix or your local video store/library, and to rent or purchase from the major digital services.