• Australian Catholic Bishops Conference
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Edge of Darkness

Starring Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston and Bojana Novakovic. Directed by Martin Campbell.
Rated MA 15+ (strong violence and coarse language). 116 mins.

Dusting off the acclaimed five-hour BBC mini-series he made in the 1980s, New Zealand-born director Martin Campbell repackages it for today’s movie audiences and re-locates it to Massachusetts more as a Mel Gibson action thriller than the thoughtful, dark and slightly ethereal drama it once was. Secret nuclear shenanigans, hushed up at every level right to the top, are still the core of the plot, and it starts out fairly faithful to its British progenitor. But the further it goes, the more it resembles your average gung-ho American revenge rampage.

Mel Gibson plays Thomas Craven, a Boston detective who drinks nothing but ginger ale. At film’s opening, he is at the railway station, meeting the train that is bringing home the daughter he dotes on, Emma (played by Australia’s Bojana Novakovic). She is 24, a science graduate who has been working as a trainee at Northmoor, a private company that stores nuclear materials for the US Government.

When an assassin appears at Craven’s front door and fires point-blank at them both, it is Emma who is killed. The police believe Craven was the target and pursue that line of inquiry, but as Craven starts to piece together the parts of Emma’s life she never told him about, it becomes clear that the gunman would have known exactly what he was doing. Emma was an activist with a political group bent on exposing corrupt activities in the nuclear industry, and gradually Craven peels back the many levels of cover-up hiding the unpalatable truth.  But it is disappointing in terms of both story development and morality that, as the evildoers are exposed, his remedy is to simply shoot them dead without compunction.

When Troy Kennedy Martin wrote the original Edge of Darkness, there was concern in Mrs Thatcher’s Britain about the consequences and side-effects of nuclear power, and the Northmoor of the mini-series was a vast network of abandoned coal mines that had been privatised for the storage of “low-grade” nuclear waste — a perfect location for secretive skulduggery. Today’s movie Northmoor is a sleek corporation, all glass and high-tech inside a heavily guarded compound. Pretty mundane by comparison.

Notions of terrorists and their activities have changed since the 1980s, and the screenplay (by Australia’s Andrew Bovell, of Lantana fame, and American William Monahan) changes the nature of the evildoing to make it more contemporary. But gratuitously slipping in the word ‘jihardist”, a term unknown to most people back then, seems a cheap shot. And their plot rather loses its way in the middle, leaving a few puzzling loose ends.

Gibson, with greying hair and thickening at the waist, gives a fairly one-dimensional performance as the grieving father, but he comes to life whenever Craven is belting up someone or other. Ray Winstone is another graven image as Jedburgh, a shadowy type who seems to be some sort of CIA spin doctor. Most impressive work is from Novakovic, nicely natural as Emma, appearing to her dad from time to time as he goes about investigating her death, Danny Huston, as the head of Northmoor, and Damian Young, a devious senator.

Campbell handles it efficiently but anyone with fond memories of the BAFTA-winning BBC version will wish the film could have come to grips with the issues in a more cerebral way instead of just shooting people.

And one gripe about a ridiculously improbable action sequence.  A character jumps from a parked car and is instantly smashed by another vehicle speeding past. It’s supposed to be a deliberate attempt to kill, but the victim makes such a sudden decision to open the car door and exit that the assassin waiting to pounce would have needed rocket propulsion to get his car going so fast in that space of time.

Icon  Out February 4

Mr Jim Murphy is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.