Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Walking the Edge

Mel Gibson's latest film Edge of Darkness was not what I was expecting.

Since it is an action movie starring Mel Gibson, I was still expecting to see Mad Max or Martin Riggs.  While they are definitely still in there, and time has been good to Mel, he is also definitely older and knows that every physical battle is going to take more of a toll than it used to.  While Max and Riggs would just wade right in, Tom Craven watches a bit longer, plans a bit farther ahead, depends on the gun a bit more, and his accuracy has only improved with time and practice.

The silliness is gone as well.  He's more serious, and any humor is more along the lines of sarcasm.

It looks good on him.

The plot follows a standard formula in that the bad guys take what matters most from the hero, but it is heartbreaking in a way and to a degree which I have never encountered in an action film.  First his daughter dies a horribly violent death in his arms, and then throughout the rest of the film he hears her voice and sees her as a little girl, reliving his favorite father/daughter moments.

The special effects and stunts are there, of course, but they are not so over the top as to eclipse the plot or characters.  Their relative subtlty allows for a greater degree of realism and makes the surprises more surprising when they happen, despite heavyhanded foreshadowing on the part of the musical score.

Ray Winstone is the only other actor I recognize, and he is brilliant as Darius Jedburgh, who adds an interesting subplot as he tries to decide which side he should be on.  Everyone assumes him to be on the side of the bad guys, but he's not so sure, and he's not willing to just do their bidding without finding out for himself (or letting Craven find out) what the real story is.  He adds a few more shades of grey in a genre dependent on black and white.

The bad guys would like to be as complicated as our hero and his potential accomplice, but it is only their protective web of lies which is complicated.  The men themselves are simply about power.  The fact that they could easily be real people -- a defense contractor and a senator -- who are part of our everyday existence makes them terrifying.

People in power think that it protects them, and to some degree they are correct, but if it insulates them too well and they depend on that protection, they can get complacent, or it can become isolating or even suffocating. They lose sight of what is going on in the world outside of their little sphere and either forget or refuse to acknowledge that there are consequences, and consequences don't apply only to other people.

The United States government wants its citizens (and as much of the rest of the world as possible) to be afraid of the terrorists, and maybe we should be, but the terrorists or hostile governments in other countries don't hate America because of its citizens.  They hate it because of its government, which loves power just as much as they do. The U.S. government is just as capable of horrible things as any member of the so-called "Axis of Evil."

Edge of Darkness tells a story which could be unfolding right now, although the ending might not turn out quite the same.  The first few minutes of the film eliminate the possibility of happily ever after, but there is closure and redemption, and, from a certain point of view, justice.

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