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February 7, 2010

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Mel teeters on edge with crusader's rage

IT has been seven years since his last film, but Mel Gibson is still playing the martyr. One might fairly call him "The Crusader," and not just because of his widely known religious views or because he directed "The Passion of the Christ."

For much of his career, Gibson (pictured above) has played both reluctant and enthusiastic heroes righteously battling corruption ("Lethal Weapon"), oppression ("The Patriot," "Braveheart"), injustice ("Payback," "Ransom") and disinformation ("Conspiracy Theory").

In "Edge of Darkness," he is up against a little of each. But will moviegoers forgive Gibson (of drunk driving and anti-Semitic remarks) to watch him being sacrificed for the sins of others?

Another A-list star seeking to rehabilitate himself, Tom Cruise, looked to re-establish his star status by donning an eye-patch and a Nazi uniform. Gibson tries just as fearsome a risk: a Boston accent.

He is Thomas Craven, a humble Boston police detective and single father to a 24-year-old daughter, Emma (Bojana Novakovic). When Emma comes home for a visit, she is abruptly and mysteriously shot and killed.

Grief-stricken, he coldly sets out like a discharged bullet to find the killer, a journey that leads him into a complex web of corporate and political cover-up.

Emma had been working as a researcher at Northmoor, a private energy company run with government assistance that may be secretly involved in nuclear weapons. Almost everything, Craven finds, is "classified."

As he delves deeper, Craven meets the villains hidden behind an elaborate PR-created artifice, like Northmoor CEO Jack Bennett (a believable, slick Danny Huston). The hidden corruption may reach as far as Republican Senator Jim Pine (Damian Young). Yes, more shocking, unexpected things from Massachusetts senators.

Too shrouded

The dependably excellent Ray Winstone plays Darius Jedburgh, who is a little like George Clooney's "fixer" in "Michael Clayton." He is more of an obscurer, though: His job is to make sure people never connect "A to B," that the truth remains too shrouded in lies for police, reporters and the public to decipher.

In a complex modern world with seemingly less accountability all the time, Winstone's weary, philosophical Jedburgh strikes a chord.

"Edge of Darkness" is directed by Martin Campbell ("Casino Royale," "Mask of Zorro") who, interestingly enough, is remaking the film from an award-winning six-hour BBC mini-series he directed 25 years ago.

Campbell is working from a screenplay adapted from that series by two seasoned scribes: William Monohan ("The Departed," another remake transplanted to Boston) and Andrew Bovell (who brought similar, moody twist-turning to 2001's underrated "Lantana.")

Now 54, Gibson is grayer and grimmer. The part of Craven leaves little room for humor, but the wildness and fire that once exploded unpredictably from Gibson is much dimmed after hard years for the actor.

That may be more troublesome for future, brighter films, but Gibson fits well in "Edge of Darkness." Hellbent in a beige raincoat, he attacks with little self-regard. The rules are rigged, so he breaks them.

There is undeniable catharsis °?- albeit an ugly, somewhat unsettling catharsis - in "Edge of Darkness." And there is value to films - B-movies like Mark Wahlberg's "Shooter" or more manicured films like Clint Eastwood's "Changeling" - that inspire resistance in the face of well-heeled subterfuge.

Some might reasonably swear off films with Gibson, but there are not a lot of actors making movies that try to bring urgent, contemporary rage to popcorn movies.

Perhaps, though, crusades need not always be bloodbaths.


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