Edge of Darkness is a heavily Americanised remake of an acclaimed 1985 BBC television miniseries, with one of the film’s producers (Michael Wearing) and its director (Martin Campbell) respectively being the producer and director of the original series. The basic premise has remained: a young woman is brutally gunned down in what appears to have been a revenge kill that was meant for her policeman father. The policeman (Thomas Craven in the film and played by Mel Gibson) is not convinced he was the target and upon investigation discovers his daughter’s involvement in an anti-nuclear organisation accused of terrorism. The dense, murky and frankly bleak six-part English political thriller has been condensed and simplified for this film version but with Casino Royale’s director Campbell at the helm the film starts off as a largely decent adaptation for the big screen. Campbell often shoots scenes from unusual locations to suggest concealment and therefore increase the film’s paranoia plus the extra dollops of action and violence do help to move the story along at a brisk pace.
For the most part Mel Gibson does a terrific job at portraying Craven. He methodically goes about his investigation with the cold detachment of man who is bottling in his emotions and still partially in a state of shock. After directing such hysterical portrayals of martyrdom in films such as Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ, Gibson is clearly suited to playing a character like Craven whose desire for justice and revenge stops him from caring about the variety of ways he puts his life at risk. We don’t really need him to tell us that he is “a guy with nothing to lose who doesn’t give a shit” but his cold and ruthless delivery of the line is still effectively chilling. It is only later in the film that Gibson starts to go over the top, relying a bit too heavily on his trademark crazy-darting-wide-eyed expression (think Franco Zeffirelli’s Hamlet and The Lethal Weapon films) to indicate that he is becoming unhinged.
Unfortunately something goes horribly wrong towards the end of Edge of Darkness. The film never reached the same dramatic heights as the original television series but for its first two acts it functions well as a taut and engaging action/thriller. However, for the third act it loses all credibility and suspense by derailing into a messy and pulpy mash-up of Dr. No and Death Wish. If you’ve ever seen Orson Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons you will understand the incredible disappointment and frustration at how the closing scenes (shot by another director and spliced in against the wishes of Welles) undermine the rest of the film. However, in the case of The Magnificent Ambersons such an ending reduced a film that could have been a masterpiece to a film that just falls short of being a masterpiece. In the case of the 2010 film version Edge of Darkness, its misguided third act is enough to reduce it from a film worth seeing to a film worth avoiding.