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Cashing a Payback

Edge of Darkness (2010)

Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros. Pictures

Revenge tragedies should be hot-blooded and cold-hearted, but "Edge of Darkness" is blanded out into something just vaguely mild. It has the curiosity value of a returning Mel Gibson — now a very strange screen presence indeed — as Boston cop Thomas Craven on the trail of his daughter's killer, but that can't hide the fact that it's a weak thriller which forgets to do much thrilling.

Everyone now knows there's a hot coal burning in Mr. Gibson's chest, and the film would be better if that peeped though to gave the character some hint of madness. But Craven is just a fuzzy ball of anger barreling after bad guys, so that never happens. The plot does go through hoops to get Craven tasered, drugged, beaten, shot and bereaved though, so welcome back to the good ol' days of Mel the Masochist. For added hilarity, Craven is a dried-out drinker who at one point refers to Christ's crucifixion.

"Edge of Darkness" is edited and structured so poorly that it's difficult to know whom to blame. There's a whole section of Martin Campbell’s back catalog that he seems to have sleepwalked through, and this one has to go in there alongside "Beyond Borders" and "No Escape." But it also has the wonky pacing and wasted detours of a story splintered by rewrites and reshoots. Plus it's just not very exciting. There is one jump moment that made me leap a foot in the air, but it's so ridiculous that I was already cross on the way down.

Especially dubious is Ray Winstone's Darius Jedburgh, a spook no doubt described in the treatment as "maverick," who wanders in and out of the plot at will. British viewers will enjoy the sight of a good Hackney lad with accent intact tasked with cleaning up the United States' ungodly messes, but the character is nonsensical.

All of which is criminal, since this story has been done before and done perfectly by the same Mr. Campbell in the BBC original. That series was a wild mix of the political and the personal, with dollops of mysticism and holy terror mixed in. Here, every quirk of every character is a watery shadow of what the originals got up to.

So these corrupt businessmen are just greedy, and this ghostly girl is just a memory. And this version of Darius Jedburgh faces his destiny with a shrug, while the original model did something unthinkable with two bars of plutonium he produced from his briefcase and cackled like a maniac. But he was a vivid writerly creation, and the new version is a pencil sketch. Mr. Campbell should have left the poor guy alone.


Opened on Jan. 29 in the United States and Britain.

Directed by Martin Campbell; written by William Monahan and Andrew Bovell, based on the BBC mini-series written by Troy Kennedy Martin; director of photography, Phil Méheux; edited by Stuart Baird; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Tom Sanders; produced by Graham King, Tim Headington and Michael Wearing; released by Warner Bros. Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 52 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Mel Gibson (Thomas Craven), Ray Winstone (Darius Jedburgh), Danny Huston (Jack Bennett), Bojana Novakovic (Emma Craven), Damian Young (Senator Jim Pine) and Shawn Roberts (Burnham).


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