Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Edge of Darkness (2010)

"Losing Your Edge"*
"I Love the British. They Deserve the Falklands."

Those who've been reading LNTAM for awhile know of my deep and abiding love for the 1985 British mini-series "Edge of Darkness," Troy Kennedy-Martin's attempt to "politicize" the police procedurals that had become so prominent on the BBC. Martin took the standard murder mystery and made it a comment on the Thatcher era of politics,as well as on the growing nuclear industry in Britain and the apparent entanglements of British and American interests. Then, with director Martin Campbell, it became something more: not only a murder mystery, but a ghost story, a psychological drama and an almost mythological fable, with the Earth itself as a participating character in the balancing of the scales of justice. It also had strains of comic loopiness amid the gritty brownstones and harsh fluorescent lights of urban crime investigation, and an overall tragic tone of inevitability. Over six hours, it covered a lot of ground above and below the surface.

Campbell desired for many years to make a film of it and with his box-office clout resulting from resurrecting the Bond franchise with "Casino Royale," he has finally managed to do it, bringing along many members of his Bond-team, including cinematographer Phil Meheux, editor extraordinaire Stuart Baird and costumer Lindy Hemming. Adapted by Andrew Bovell and William Monahan (he wrote "The Departed"), I've been curious (with an undercurrent of dread) of what the new version of one of my favorites would be like.

Well, this "Edge of Darkness" is not as good as the original, compressing and tossing a lot of the story to accommodate a two hour length. But, it's not half-bad either—efficient, taut, and, if you're paying attention, weaving its own commentary on the bad marriage between government and industry, especially in the post-911/W.years in which it is set. Gone is the humor, the tilted quality, the psychology and the Big Picture aspects of the tale. The ghost story is given up, as well, but it still manages to have the haunted quality of the original, while buttoning up the story for a less-delayed, more visceral conclusion.

Thomas Craven (
Mel Gibson) is a widowed detective in the "Bahston" police force, welcoming his daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) home from a long absence. She's been using her Masters of Science degree interning at a local facility, the Northmoor nuclear facility working on cold fusion energy production ("It's very green," says its slimy CEO Bennett, played by a dead-eyed Danny Huston). But, at dinner, she begins to vomit uncontrollably and as Craven is desperately trying to take her to the hospital, they are attacked in the night. A single yell—"Craven!"—pierces the darkness and Emma is shot-gunned, mortally wounded.

The conventional wisdom is that it is one of Craven's enemies seeking revenge and missing his target, combining murder and accident.
But Craven doggedly pursues clues, haunted by his daughter's memory, to pursue the assassin and get justice. Very quickly, the murder weapon and an old perp of Craven's is found—dead of a particularly nasty head-wound—the case apparently closed.

But not so fast. Acting alone,
Craven digs further into Northmoor and his daughter's recent past to find out what happened, her cell-phone leading to a line of suspects that he questions seeking the truth. His lone-wolf quest puts him on the radar of Northmoor's private security firm and the U.S. government, particularly a "cleaner" named Darius Jedburgh (Ray Winstone), who makes his own inquiry, deciding if Craven should be allowed to proceed further or be stopped.

That's pretty much the opening thread of the original, too, except that the locales and characters are different. In the mini-series, British Intelligence is following Craven's investigation and they bring C.I.A. operative Jedburgh to provide Craven with information—a situation that creates an odd bond between the two men. In the original,
Ronnie Craven is fragile, having had a break-down when his wife died, and keeps himself together by suppressing his emotions, except for the odd conversation he has with his dead daughter, whose clues lead him to different corners of the investigation. That may be his mental condition coming to hand, but it might not. He also has to deal with the guilt of being part of the authority that his activist daughter is working against. But Tommy Craven, of this version, is a coiled spring that only loosens in moments of extreme violence, periodically reliving his memories of his daughter and anything she says is non-specific to the case. A similar scene of Craven identifying his daughter's body is handled completely different. When the morgue nurse attempts to cover Emma's face after the identification, Gibson's Craven suddenly and violently hisses "Leave her alone!" Bob Peck's reaction was a loud wounded animal howl—"Leeeeave her!"

Jedburgh is a different creature, as well.
Joe Don Baker's C.I.A. operative from the mini-series was a loud, Stetson-wearing Texan who waxed philosophically on the roots of all problems, arcane and mundane. Ray Winstone's British character is a low rumbling bear with a lower class argot, a disappearing act and an expression that gives nothing away but by what he says. In the mini-series, Craven and Jedburgh team up as an assault force to get clues, but in the 2010 film, they play opposite sides, aware of each other's presence and linked by common maladies and points of philosophy. The character is still amusing, but not a tragic-comic high wire act the way Baker played him.

Tommy Craven (rather than his older mini-series brother Ronnie) is more aggressive, and frequently yells his dialogue in a cynical sneer ("I'm the guy with nothing to lose and I don't give a shit. So, fasten your seat-belt"), and, since there's less of a mystery to be solved due to the thuddingly obvious machinations of the bad guys, it all boils down to one man seeking revenge, something that was out of the question in the original. Those action set pieces are stunningly conceived and delivered by Campbell and shaped by Baird into especially visceral short bursts, with one bit of film mayhem coming so fast and so out of the blue that it practically knocks you out of your theater seat. It's refreshing in these days of salad-shooter editing to see fast, punchy dust-ups (and wet-works) that one can actually follow and has so much impact.

The new version is probably more satisfying for contemporary audiences jacked up on Red-Bull and obsessed with "closure;" I, for one, enormously enjoyed the hopeless quality of the original's ending with its ghoulishly ironic end-joke (which made everything all right in my eyes). But, the politics are still there, and this "Edge" does a fine job of being morphed into something for its time, with its stated philosophy of "
It's not what it is—it's what it can be made to look like." In other words, you can have your yellow cake and eat it, too. Words to live and die by.

So, take it for what it is, it's a good boiling down and re-vamping, which has the dual effect of making it both fresh and too familiar, as so many things that made the original unique have been jettisoned out the old chute. But, as a display of technical craftsmanship, it is quite impressive.

"Edge of Darkness" is a Rental.

* I've known, ever since this project was announced, that whatever was done with it, it couldn't impact my admiration for the original mini-series. And it doesn't. It's like the story of a visitor to Raymond Chandler, asking him if he he felt bad about what the movies had done to some of his novels. Chandler took the guest into his library. "They haven't done anything to my novels," he said. "Look. They're still there." The mini-series is still a classic. And this one is good for what it is.

** A line from the original's Darius Jedburgh (played brilliantly by Joe Don Baker), as he and Craven sit, watching a dancing competition on the telly. "Look at that," says Jedburgh, before that particular line. "They don't have anything like this in the States." Well, they do now.

*** Since writing this, I've been looking at a smattering of reviews, and finding myself appalled. First off, a lot of reviewers seem to see this as a Mel Gibson production. It isn't, and although it makes it easier to knock the film if you mis-characterize it as such, Martin Campbell directed it. And too many reviews have led off with "Mel's being a martyr again" (which I suspect were cribbed from one AP review) which may be so, but he's got a way to go before he beats Charlton Heston's record. Quite a few get it wrong to compare it to "Taken." "Edge of Darkness" isn't very original, no. It's based on the 1985 British mini-series (that's been established). "Taken," however, isn't the heighth of originality, either, as it's a contemporary urban version of "The Searchers." Finally, what genius over at "The Atlantic" hired Ed Koch to review movies, as he displays that he knows nothing about them? "How're you doing, Ed?" Badly.


John said...

I can't believe you paid money to go see this! This looked even worse than From Paris with Love. Bless you for taking one for the team. :)

Yojimbo_5 said...

You didn't read the review.

John said...

I did.

I assume that your comment is trying to point out that you fully explained why you wanted to go see it in your first couple of paragraphs.

I get that. But, what I'm saying (and this may put me in the company of those hacks that compared Edge of Darkness to Taken) is that it looked like a steaming pile of horseshit in its trailer. But that could be because I wouldn't cross the street to punch Mel Gibson in the throat. Mostly though, it was because the trailer conveyed the same tone as Taken... "Ride along with a vengeance fueled thrillfest as Mel Gibson beats the crap out of badguys... and you can really enjoy it because they totally deserve everything they get... cuz they messed with his daughter yo!"

I absolutely hate films that rest on that premise, even if they're cloaked in anti-government conspiracy rants. They appeal the absolute lowest common denominator. I know there is nothing new about this phenomenon... although my own personal memory vault only stretches back to the era of Charles Bronson's Death Wish. The fact that it remains a popular form of story telling saddens me.

John said...

Yeesh... I need a proofreader for my kneejerk comments. :)