Moviegoers can rest easy. Mel Gibson is back in the business of starring in violent, paranoid thrillers, back in the business of starring in movies. Period.
For all its familiar Mel touches, though, Edge of Darkness, Gibson's first leading role since 2002's Signs, is an odd duck of a thriller. Quiet, talkative, with the occasional explosion of violence, it has ghosts and characters philosophizing, quoting F. Scott Fitzgerald or blurting insensitive non- sequiturs. Gibson tries on a Boston accent (it needs work) and boringly underplays his character before the inevitable "Mad Mel" makes his appearance in the third act.
Adapted from a 1980s British mini-series, the film is about a lone widower cop, Tommy Craven (Gibson), whose daughter, Emma (Bojana Novakovic), is killed in front of him in what everybody assumes was a hit aimed at Tommy.
That's what Tommy's superiors suspect. So does Tommy. "Don't worry," they tell him. This is a murder with an "officer involved." They put a lot more effort into those cases.
Tommy scatters her ashes, plows through his old cases and stumbles across her cell phone. The script was written by William Monahan, who has made cell phones his favorite plot device starting with The Departed. Thus Emma's friends, boyfriend (Shawn Roberts, in a one-note performance) and contacts reveal themselves. Tommy makes calls and begins to suspect that her corporate boss (Danny Huston, the villain's villain) had something to do with her death.
Director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) has a hard time getting this generic whodunit off the ground as the script weaves in more and more layers of conspiracy — politicians, activists, government bureaucrats and a mysterious spy (Ray Winstone). The most theatrical and pointless scenes in Edge of Darkness pair Gibson with Winstone as each growls questions to the other. Who's on whose side? Winstone is just there to assure Tommy — "You're a wise man."
Gibson doesn't give away much as a hard man hardened further by grief he can't express. He's not quite dull, but the movie's indulgent reveries — flashbacks to his daughter's childhood, lectures about the origins of the phrase "blow the whistle" — just delay the inevitable, which we've figured out early on.
All that baggage suggests that this movie, like State of Play, worked better in longer form on British TV. And Gibson might be "back," but for a movie about a mysterious murder with an "officer involved," he needed to be a lot more involved to make us care.