The strange and gloomy Edge of Darkness is Mel Gibson's first job in front of a camera since M. Night Shyamalan's UFO nuttiness, 2002's Signs. The fact that the wild-eyed movie star looks considerably worse for wear - his rugged mug crosshatched and grooved, his scowl severe - could certainly be attributed (if one discounts all those tabloid headlines) to the role at hand: Gibson is Tom Craven, a Boston Police Department detective who has just witnessed his twentysomething daughter being blown away.
A thriller that mixes elements of Mystic River (working-class Boston, a father torn apart by the death of his girl), Silkwood (radiation contamination, whistle-blowing), and over-the-top Bond villainy (Danny Huston, oily and artificially tanned), Edge of Darkness feels more than a little like a '70s throwback. The pace is languorous, the volume (with the exception of three or four jolting episodes of violence) low, the lighting dim and grim.
So Craven, a longtime widower comfortable in his lonely regimens, welcomes his daughter for a visit. They haven't been communicating much, even though she lives just a hundred or so miles across the state, and he senses there's something more going on here than just a casual weekend at home. But before Emma (Bojana Novakovic) has a chance to share her worries, she's dead. The two are standing on the front porch when a car rolls by, the shooter shouts "Craven!" and she goes flying back into the house, her torso a big, bloody hole.
The cops think the killers were targeting Tom - payback for some old arrest, an old conviction. And that's what he thinks, too. But then he discovers curious objects among Emma's effects: a handgun, a Geiger counter. And objects - namely, her personal computer - gone missing.
So the detective is on the case. And on the path of revenge and retribution.
Directed by Martin Campbell - who also did the 1985 BBC mini-series Edge of Darkness has been adapted from - the film takes Gibson's character through sinister thickets of intrigue, leading all the way to the nation's capital. But back in western Massachusetts, it's the architecturally ridiculous Northmoor - a military-industrial R&D outfit spread across a hilltop campus - that looks to be the source of the trouble. This is where Emma worked as a research assistant. And this is where Jack Bennett (Huston), Northmoor's chief, strolls around like a sociopath in fancy suits. When he leans close to Craven and asks "What's it feel like?" to lose a kid, there's not a scintilla of empathy in the question - it's evil curiosity, flat-out.
Campbell, who last helmed Casino Royale, lets Huston tromp around like he's doing a 007 picture, too - a power-hungry arch-nemesis operating from on high. His cartoon villainy doesn't jibe with Gibson's discount-store cop clothes, his clenched stab at realism.
Somewhere in the middle between Gibson and Huston is Ray Winstone, the English actor, as an enigmatic "cleaner" by the name of Darius Jedburgh. With his loyalties and sympathies unclear, Jedburgh meets Craven to discuss his daughter's death and the dangerous places the case may lead. With Winstone's low, rumbly Britspeak and Gibson's bereaved Beantown murmurs, a good quarter of the duo's dialogue trails off in puffs of cigar smoke, forever