Movies: Edge of Darkness * * *
(15A, general release)
Based on an award-winning 80s BBC drama series of the same name, Edge of Darkness is significant for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is directed by Martin Campbell, the veteran New Zealand film-maker who recently helped resuscitate the Bond franchise and was responsible for the original BBC series. Secondly, it marks the return of Mel Gibson to a starring role for the first time since 2002.
In recent years, Mr Gibson has forsaken acting to concentrate instead on directing and imploding in public, two areas in which he excels. His commanding performance here is a welcome reminder of just how powerful and charismatic a screen actor he can be, and the grizzled lines of a life lived hard have only added to his presence. It's just as well, because he's the best thing about this film, which, despite a strong start, never quite manages to convince.
Gibson is Thomas Craven, a veteran Boston police detective who lives alone and is devoted to his grown-up daughter, Emma. At the start of the film he fusses around her after meeting her at the train station, but when they are standing on their front porch a car speeds up and the passenger opens fire. It is Emma that is hit and killed, and Thomas is devastated.
His colleagues assume that he was the intended target, but Craven is haunted by something his daughter tried to tell him. Emma was working as an engineer at a mysterious nuclear facility called Northmoor, and Craven soon unearths links to a radical anti-nuclear organisation and intimations of distinctly unpatriotic goings on. But his witnesses keep getting bumped off, and soon he too is a target.
Rent-a-villain himself, Danny Huston, plays a sinister corporate type called Bennett, and Ray Winstone is Matt Jedburgh, a shady operative whose intentions are uncertain but is clearly some kind of state-sponsored assassin.
In the 1985 BBC series, a labyrinthine conspiracy was teased out over six tense episodes. Here a vast, ghastly plot is shoehorned into one-and-three-quarter hours, which causes problems. Campbell has been around the block often enough to avoid clunky chunks of exposition, but in wishing to avoid the obvious he renders his storyline too confusing and leaves too many loose ends behind.
At the same time, the film never sits still long enough to develop a backstory for any of its characters, so that Craven remains the only one whose motivation is clear.