Mel's back - and he's still got it

Posted: Thursday, February 04, 2010

Quick, name the last movie that hit theaters with Mel Gibson's name on the marquee.

Gibson's last box office effort was "Signs," which came out in 2002.

2002! It has been almost a decade since we last had to decide whether to spend ten bucks to see him on the big screen. Actually, "Signs" was long enough ago that at that point maybe it was still a much more reasonable $9.75. In any case, it has been a while. Since then, Mel's certainly been in the headlines from time to time. As a director, he proved he's a talented filmmaker. He also proved he's unafraid of controversy. And, at least on one mistake filled evening, he proved he is unafraid of drinking, driving, getting arrested and saying some really stupid things.

Gibson hasn't been the lead of a movie for a while, but I'm not sure his name is any less recognizable than it was when "Signs" came out. The question for me was two-fold. One, is the guy still talented enough to make you forget about "Mel Gibson" and just enjoy the character he's playing? Two, as my mother asked every time an "Edge of Darkness" trailer played on TV these past few weeks, "Does anyone care about Mel, anymore?"

In "Edge of Darkness," the answer to the first question comes quickly: Yes. Gibson is still a supremely talented actor. He plays Thomas Craven, a Boston police detective, complete with a surprisingly acceptable Boston accent. We meet Craven just as he is set to pick up his daughter, Emma (Bojana Novakovic), who is coming home for a visit with Dad. It is clear their relationship is a close one, and as he drives home with her in the pouring Boston rain, it is equally clear there is something on Emma's mind. Craven stops for groceries on the way and when he comes out of the store he sees Emma standing, half out of the car, vomiting.

He assumes it's morning sickness. If you have seen the trailers, you know better. I won't unravel that mystery for you; that is what Craven spends most of the movie doing. It becomes an obsession with him, and understandably so, after Emma is brutally gunned down while he stands next to her on his front porch.

Suddenly Craven is alone. His daughter is gone. Were the bullets meant for Thomas, as the police force assumes? Or was Emma involved with something more? Craven soon finds himself smack-dab in the middle of a government conspiracy involving everything from evil executives (paging Danny Huston) to corrupt politicians and nuclear threats. Perhaps shrouded by the most mystery of all is Jedburgh (Ray Winstone), who seems to be the guy our government calls upon to clean messy situations up. For whatever reason, Jedburgh seems to like Craven; instead of killing him, he helps him. Sort of.

There are plot holes in "Edge of Darkness" if you insist on looking. Mostly, though, writers William Monahan and Andrew Bovell have crafted an effective thriller. What they and director Martin Campbell deserve the most credit for is the emotion they are able to keep in the at times violent story. Craven imagines his daughter, both childhood and adult versions of her, throughout the movie. He talks to her. Everything he does, in fact, is because of her. It could have easily been irritating or cheesy but instead it works - right down to the last peaceful frames of the movie.

Mel is indeed back. And, at least after one week in release, the answer to my mother's question is also "yes."

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