Edge of Darkness is another movie that I went into with negative expectations and came out pleasantly surprised. What were those negative expectations, you ask? Well, first off, we have Mel Gibson. Mel Gibson, while a brilliant actor in the past, hasn't really been in much of note recently and has acquired a rather nasty reputation in his daily life activities. Perhaps it is bad to judge an actor by what they do outside of acting, but we all do it just the same. However, that would make me a hypocrite because I love Tom Cruise and John Travolta, and both of them have acquired controversial reputations due to their belief in that which is most bizarre: Scientology.
Anyways, another thing which gave me doubts is that this, on the surface, just looks like yet another movie about some older guy going on the rampage when his family member gets killed/kidnapped. For some reason, this has been a recurrent trend recently, with the movie Taken leading the pack. The concept isn't inherently bad for a story, but when it has that appearance of being everywhere then it swiftly loses its luster. Speaking of which, I'll be watching the movie Harry Brown soon which has Michael Caine in what looks like virtually the same role. Having similar movies released one after another causes one to doubt and look down upon the ones that one watches after the first. I think that this is a big reason why I preferred The Prestige over The Illusionist. But I digress.
Mel Gibson as the Subtle Badass
This movie restored a lot of respect with me for Mel Gibson. While this is hardly his best role ("Freeeedooom!"), he carries the tragic character excellently. He is suitably aggrieved by his daughter's death, yet you can't help but respect the man for his unyielding determination in trying to discover what caused it. His character has a lot going on: he occasionally hallucinates his daughter's presence yet maintains the wherewithal to act completely professional (most of the time); he is able to overcome the emotional instability that her death causes with surprising ease yet clearly lets his anguish bleed through from time to time. Long story short, Mel Gibson manages to give his character incredible depth, so much so that I'm still not quite sure whether to think of him as a solid, professional grade-A badass or a man with severe issues concealed extraordinarily well.
One interesting thing in particular that I liked about his character that seemed unique and special to the film was the fact that, unlike all those other older vigilantes in other movies, Mel Gibson's character always seems to avoid violence or confrontation unless absolutely necessary. This isn't out of cowardice, but more out of him being very smart and dedicated to, as much as possible, following the law. This spirals out of control later in the film, but I can't say why exactly without spoiling it. I can only say that there are points in the movie where Mel Gibson has no other choice but to act outside of the law, and it was great to see a protagonist act as intelligently as he does. I really found myself rooting for his character.
The Big Picture
Another thing that made this movie especially appealing was the fact that the villains weren't small-time crooks or obvious criminals. This isn't just a gang killing here. Instead, it quickly becomes clear that the antagonist of Edge of Darkness is a corporation involved in classified nuclear operations with fingers dipped into the highest echelons of the United States government, a corporation that Mel Gibson's daughter worked for before her death. Finding what exactly is wrong with the corporation and what it does, and the daughter's role in it, was really interesting to watch.
Additionally, unlike many of the other one-man-out-for-revenge type flicks, Mel Gibson's character does not operate independently from his police force. Despite the dubious nature of the case, Mel Gibson works directly with his fellow cops to investigate his daughter's death, and he uses the police force a number of times for support and to bail himself out of tricky situations. I thought I'd point this out simply because it felt so rare for a character in this situation to do this. Again, it was interesting to see Mel Gibson's character try to work with the law despite the ambiguity of the task facing him.
In the end, I really liked Edge of Darkness, which surprised me. Mel Gibson wasn't annoying, the plot was very interesting to watch, the antagonist was amorphous and difficult to pin down, Mel tried to work with the law instead of just abandoning it from the start, Ray Winstone provided a really interesting side character who I almost forgot to mention... The movie did a lot to subvert my expectations of the vigilante movie. And, for a movie called Edge of Darkness, I thought there were a lot of rather funny moments.
My only complaint would be that I found the scenes where he hallucinated/dwelled upon the memories of his daughter to be distracting. But those scenes were absolutely necessary considering that, otherwise, we would have assumed Mel Gibson's character to be a heartless bastard. It just speaks to the strength of the rest of the film that I found myself tapping my foot waiting for the main plot to continue. Definitely worth seeing.