Film Review | Sunday, 07 February 2010

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Thrilling… as expected

The 2010 Oscar nominations were announced to some minor furore this week – I say minor because some commotion was merely prompted by the fact that there were 10 films in the ‘Best Picture’ category, as opposed to five. This has been seen by many as an attempt by the Academy to shoehorn as many blockbusters into the proceedings as possible, as the past few years had been dominated by indie/arthouse films (the Academy here employed a very loose definition of the terms… as one blogger commented, their definition of ‘arthouse’ seems to extend to any film made under a budget of $50 million…) – which, apparently, is a problem. But when an institution that supposedly exists to reward excellence in cinema hands out nine nominations to James Cameron’s latest financial powerhouse ‘Avatar’ (a fine piece of eye candy certainly, but is it really anything more than that?), you really begin to wonder where all this is headed.
But there’s still (exactly) a month to go for the ceremony, and in the meantime, there’s plenty of films out there who just weren’t dazzling enough to make the cut, or were simply released too late to fall under the Oscar radar. Martin Campbell’s ‘Edge of Darkness’ is an ideal contender for both – buoyed by the fact that it features Mel Gibson returning to the thriller genre that made his name, its averageness is so standard that it is almost sublime.
Thomas Craven (Mel Gibson), a South State, Boston detective receives a visit from his daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic), from whom he has been estranged from for some years, but is very glad to finally see. But when they arrive home, Emma falls ill and no sooner than the two can leave for the doctor, she is shot by a driveby assassin on the front porch. As the perception spreads that the hit was intended for her father, Thomas’s trail leads him to far more sinister implications, as a web of secrecy seems to emanate from the Northmoor, the corporation for which Emma was employed as a ‘glorified intern’. In his investigations, Thomas is approached by Darius Jedburgh (Ray Winstone), employed to cover up the murders by Northmoor top man Jack Bennett (Danny Huston), but who seems to be manipulating things in his own direction.
Forced, at gunpoint (pun not intended) to identify what this film has over any other specimen from the pseudo-John Grisham slew of corporate conspiracy thrillers, it would have to be the Boston setting. The accents are endearing, and the film is peppered by references to the fact that ‘everything is illegal in Boston’. The rest glides on with the most generic of intentions and the most generic of execution, and we are manipulated, slowly but surely, into sadistically enjoying every second in which Gibson ceases to look doe-eyed and pained and simply brings the pain. This is not to say that the film is lazily handled. Campbell, having resurrected James Bond twice (with ‘Goldeneye’ and ‘Casino Royale’) is a competent and confident director. The project must also have been a labour of love for him, as it is based on the classic 80s BBC mini-series of the same name, whose influence is not inconsiderate (The Daily Telegraph called it “a masterpiece”, which is “one of those very rare television creations so rich in form and content that the spectator wishes there was some way of prolonging it indefinitely.”) – and as such, it is carefully paced and thrilling where it has to be. It is because of its airtight generic nature that the character of Jedburgh – an enigmatic creature slinking from one side to the other, peppering his ominous conversations with Diogenes and F. Scott Fitzgerald references – feels intriguing, but out of place, as if he’d just stepped out of a metaphysical exploration of a thriller, rather than a thriller itself. Perhaps some bafflement is better than none, when everything else is so typical.

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