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‘Edge of Darkness’

Gibson seeks payback — and a comeback — in revenge tale

by Kaori Shoji

Even vegetarians get blood lust sometimes, and if you’re in that particular mood, look no further than “Edge of Darkness” for your carnivorous kicks.

Though it falls in the action-thriller category, “Edge … ” provides less bullet ballet than one would expect from a homicide-detective-out-to-uncover-dirty-secrets tale, and there’s no love/sexual angle to alleviate the gritty seriousness of it all. Suffice to say, this is not a hamburger date with a fitness-gym prelude (conveniently working off the calories plus guilt beforehand) but a sit-down steak dinner in an oak-paneled room where everything feels slightly stuffy, a little antiquated and heavy, heavy, heavy.

Not surprising really, considering the two leads. In the blue corner, a mid-50s Mel Gibson in his first acting role in something like eight years, after some unfortunate incidents involving speeding tickets and widely publicized anti-Semitic rants. In the red corner, Brit baddie Ray Winstone, best known for playing bullying, abusive, drunk and disheveled males with fists like blocks of ham (“The War Zone,” “Final Cut” and “Cold Mountain” to name a few).

The pair don’t exactly punch each other senseless, but there’s a nasty chemistry going on in the ring as they jab and shuffle and bide their time until one or the other lands that decisive blow on his opponent’s temple.

“Edge of Darkness” is an American remake of a 1985 British miniseries, and director Martin Campbell (of “Casino Royale” fame) helmed both productions. The original series starred Bob Peck and had a lot more elbow room to build suspense and psychological drama, with Cold War conspiracy themes playing mournfully in the background. The movie version is tighter, designed for modern, digitalized audiences with busy schedules and short attention spans.

Campbell seems well aware that what worked 20 years ago would not today, but there’s still a lot of baggage he has tried to smuggle over. For example, the dialogue is occasionally memorable (“You’d better decide whether you’re hanging on the cross or banging in the nails!”) but often tedious. And the action comes in fits and starts, and is lumpy and a little awkward. It enhances the realism, certainly, but realism isn’t high on the agenda these days.

Gibson plays Thomas Craven (always a dependable screen-cop name) a Boston homicide detective and lonely widower, who lives for the job and the chance of seeing his 24-year-old daughter, Emma (Bojana Novakovic), on the rare occasion when she can take time off from her nuclear-engineering job in Hanover, Connecticut.

One afternoon, Emma comes home looking ill and with a bleeding nose, so dad convinces her to go to the hospital. As they go through the door, a shot rings out in the dark and Emma is dead. Devastated but determined to discover what exactly happened and whether the shot was intended for him or his daughter, Thomas goes out on a mission of revenge.

Here, Campbell is in familiar territory, and not just because of the TV miniseries — “Casino Royale,” after all, was a dark, Jacobean tale of vengeance that totally revamped the 007 franchise. Plagued by memories of Emma, Thomas chokes back his tears and bulldozes ahead to uncover corporate scandal and government ties, with nuclear-waste issues slithering around like a bunch of deadly snakes.

This is where the story gets too close for comfort, but rather than delve too deeply into that muck, Campbell keeps Thomas focused on Emma, her death and what he can do to make her murderers suffer.

In the meantime, Winstone plays Jedburgh (which sounds like a menu item at Hooters), a government spy who may or may not be on Thomas’ side but is always hanging around, bringing bad news and telling Thomas to back off or suffer the consequences. Thomas isn’t the kind of guy to take a hint, and prefers to dispense with formalities altogether. “Did you kill my daughtah?” he growls in a somewhat overdone Boston accent, and when he’s convinced the answer is “nah,” he jumps into his “cah” and revs away. What a dad. In my book, he’s an inspiration to hard-working adult daughters everywhere.