Sharp 'Edge'

Though it's violent, bloody and familiar, Mel Gibson's latest is a cut above

The TV ads take pains to point out the similarities between "Edge of Darkness" and "Taken," a huge sleeper hit this time last year.

Could be the start of a new midwinter movie tradition - during the coldest and darkest days of the year, we all get to warm our hands over a barrel of flaming whup-ass.

You can get good and toasty watching "Edge of Darkness," with Mel Gibson in the Liam Neeson role of avenging dad, a man (to paraphrase "Taken") whose particular set of skills make him a nightmare for the people who mess with his daughter.

Gibson plays Thomas Craven, a straight-arrow Boston detective whose daughter (suspiciously obscure actress named Bojana Novakovic) is murdered on his doorstep, and dies in his arms.

Authorities presume that she's collateral damage in an attempted hit on Craven, but the detective's nose for the truth is twitching. Why was she so troubled before the shooting, and so sick - vomiting, bleeding from the nose?

And could this have something to do with her top-secret nuclear work at a defense contractor?

Well, here's a clue - the company is run by Danny Huston, equally at home as leader of a vampire horde or head of a U.S. corporation. (In a Hollywood movie, it's usually the same thing.)

Huston's corporation is well-connected and well-protected, but Tommy is propelled by the special rage of a wronged father, and (like Neeson in "Taken") uses his professional skill set and street smarts to cut a bloody swath through high-reaching networks of collusion and corruption.

There's more to "Edge" though, than "Taken" riffs. It's unusually well-written for a bloody actioner, and has unexpected layers. For instance: When dark forces hire a scary fixer (Ray Winstone) to clean up Tommy's ever-widening mess, the two men meet and form a strange friendship - a warriors-of-a-certain-age kind of thing, very nicely handled by the two actors (sorry, Mel haters, he's pretty good here).

The movie is slickly adapted/condensed by Martin Campbell (he's done a couple of Bond movies) from a prize-winning British miniseries he did 25 years ago, and while some sophistication is lost, some of the smarts survive (a regrettable conspiracy subplot aside).

And the movie plugs into something contemporary. Thomas Craven may be a "Death Wish" vigilante, but his targets are not subway punks. They're members of the ruling class - political, corporate and everything in between.

It's a weird coincidence that the conspiracy that Tommy uncovers has to do with a Massachusetts Senate seat, held by an aristocrat with a sense of entitlement and invulnerability.

Scott Brown's victory indicates that even Massachusetts Dems grew tired of hearing pundits talk about "Ted Kennedy's seat," when in fact it belongs to them.

There is a similar tone of populist anger in "Edge of Darkness," and it results in change you cannot only believe in, but enjoy as a dementedly guilty pleasure.


Edge of Darkness

Directed by Martin Campbell. With Denis O'Hare, Mel Gibson, Danny Huston, Caterina Scorsone, Peter Hermann, Shawn Roberts, Ray Winstone, Jay O. Sanders, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Bojana Novakovic. Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Running time: 1 hours, 48 minutes.

Parent's guide: R (for strong bloody violence and language).