IN THE TIME since his last leading role—in 2002's Signs—Mel Gibson has crucified Jesus in The Passion of the Christ, made a jaguar chew off a man's face in Apocalypto, and drunkenly blamed the Jews for starting every war in the world. He's been a busy, probably-at-least-partially-insane man, but now he's getting back into the movie star business—and to do so, he's picked a pretty safe project. Edge of Darkness is a thriller directed by Martin Campbell (GoldenEye, Casino Royale) and based on a BBC miniseries Campbell directed in 1985; it's hammy and simple and occasionally slow, but it's solid. Memories of Jesus-centric torture porn and slurred hate speech aside, Edge of Darkness is a reminder that Gibson's a reliable and watchable star, and that Campbell can make an engaging flick without relying on 007's tired formulas.
Not that Edge of Darkness isn't formulaic—actually, it plays out a lot like 2008's Taken, in which Liam Neeson's daughter got kidnapped, inspiring Liam Neeson to kill a bunch of eeeevil kidnappers (and in the process thoroughly earn that "World's Best Dad" coffee mug). Edge of Darkness' victimized daughter barely makes it through the opening credits—thanks to some pesky physical illnesses (vomiting, nosebleeds, a shotgun blast to the stomach), poor Emma Craven (Bojana Novakovic) promptly dies in her dad's arms. Luckily for those in the audience who want vicarious revenge (EVERYONE), tough-as-nails, no-bullshit Thomas Craven (Gibson) is a Boston cop who vows to track down those responsible.
Craven's the sort of guy who wears a trench coat and growls things like "I'm the guy with nothin' to lose and who doesn't give a shit!", and the people he says these things to are usually smarmy, self-satisfied bad guys who don't take Craven seriously (until he shoots them in the face). And naturally, Emma's death is just the tip of the iceberg—as Craven uncovers a shady conspiracy, he starts wrecking some shit, which mostly involves staring intently at things, having hallucinations of his dead daughter as a little girl (adorable!), and, too rarely, kicking the asses of those aforementioned smarmy, self-satisfied bad guys.
Despite a final scene that rivals The Lovely Bones for cheese, Edge of Darkness is pulpy, grim, and cynical—at its best, it feels like a grimy revenge flick from the '70s or '80s, the sort of thing you should be watching on VHS. With a weathered face and a slight paunch, Gibson wearily sulks around, glaring up at everyone (Campbell, wisely, has cast actors who are mostly taller than Gibson, making him look less like Martin Riggs and more like a bitter old bastard) and making Craven at once kinda likeable and kinda crazy. Gibson's performance helps make Edge of Darkness a serviceable if unextraordinary revenge flick—though one can't help but think it would've been better if it just felt a bit more weird, a bit more... Mel Gibson-y. Jaguars chewing off peoples' faces never hurt a movie, is all I'm saying.