With the resurgence of anti-corporate populism on both sides of the political aisle, the timing seems apt for director Martin Campbell’s Edge of Darkness, a remake of his own 1985 BBC miniseries about shadowy business and government collusion. Transposing the setting from Old England to New, the film centers on gruff Boston detective Thomas Craven (Mel Gibson) and his quest to uncover the truth about his daughter’s (Bojana Novakavich) brutal murder. Wasting little time on setup, Craven’s daughter, an MIT grad and nuclear engineer in training, returns home with an unidentified illness and a secret to tell her father. But before she can disclose this vital information, she is brutally murdered in front of Craven’s eyes. Given that Craven is a longtime police officer, his colleagues assume the bullet was intended for him. However, Craven is perhaps the only 20-year homicide detective in Boston without any known enemies, which leads him to suspect his daughter was the rightful target. Working outside the official lines (is there any other way?), Craven begins to dig into his daughter’s professional and personal life, assisted, or perhaps hindered, by Jedburgh (Ray Winstone), an enigmatic, philosophy-spewing fixer. He soon discovers her company was at the heart of a conspiracy going all the way to the highest levels of power, or at least to a Massachusetts Senator (kudos to the filmmakers for predicting Democratic Massachusetts would one day have a Republican Senator!).
Campbell opens the film with an intriguing shot: Three corpses floating to the surface of the Connecticut River, an imposing, modernist building nestled atop the abutting hill in the background. The shot recalls Martin Scorsese’s rat in the final frames of The Departed, suggesting a similarly intricate and labyrinthine look into the structures of power (the film is co-written by William Monahan, who also adapted The Departed). Craven’s character, moreover, is a potentially resonant tragic figure, too blind in his quest for vengeance to understand how his own participation in the American Dream is ultimately responsible for its unraveling. It’s the stuff that great cinema, and perhaps the original miniseries, is made of, yet for some reason Campbell shies away from it.
Instead, he offers an illogical conspiracy thriller with pseudo-political commentary that’s mired in the environmentalist activism of the 1980s, with a few nods to the Bush-era “War on Terror.” Gibson is perfectly tailored for the role of Craven, and he rides it out well alongside Campbell’s clumsy narrative maze. Despite the forced contemplation of the otherwise purposeless Jedburgh’s ruminations, at no point does Craven — or, by proxy, the viewer — stop to contemplate the larger forces at play, despite this notion being the entire crux of the movie. We are expected to cheer as Craven relentlessly pursues the cartoonish corporate and governmental baddies who brought about his daughter’s demise in a cover-up of illegal nuclear weapons manufacturing. On top of that, Craven engages in dialogue with the voice of his daughter throughout the film. This is not to call his sanity into question, but, as the film’s New Age-infused final scenes reveal, it’s intended to present the heartwarming reconciliation of a man who never really knew his own daughter. The effect is the kind of unnecessarily jarring distraction a true conspirator would love.