Mel Gibson
Mel Gibson

Welcome back Mel

WHEN you look at the year of superstar Mel Gibson’s last foray on to the big screen (2004, in an unaccredited role in Paparazzi), you realise it’s a long time between drinks – err, let me rephrase that.

Australia’s former number one pin-up boy ceased being described as an Aussie shortly after it was discovered he was in need of a few essions at AA – roughly the same timeframe that it took Russell Crowe to become a New Zealander again after his phone-throwing hissy fit. Gibson has since gone on to further disgrace after an ugly anti-Semite rave when he was ‘tired and emotional’, and then deserting long-suffering wife Robyn, mother of seven of his children.

Gibson is back as the star of Edge of Darkness, a brutal thriller directed by Martin Campbell (Casino Royale). He plays homicide detective Thomas Craven with a Boston accent so thick subtitles would have been useful.

The film is a remake of the successful television six-part series of the same name, also directed by Campbell.

That little piece of information is critical, in that when six hours of television drama is edited down to 120 minutes of film, a lot of detail is discarded.

Thus I warn you to not let your attention wander in this movie, as you will be lost from that moment on. A lot of characters are introduced in a short period, some by name only until later in the film. A couple of head-scratching moments occurred for this reviewer.

Having said that, it is a genuine nail-biting thriller, with several moments when I confess I let out a yelp of shock (don’t worry, there are no spoilers in this review). The opening scene is chilling.

But how many more times do we need to see Mel portraying a bereaved, edge-of-madness, vengeful husband/boyfriend/father?

Mad Max, Lethal Weapon versions one through to 50, Ransom; the list goes on.

Gibson is widely described as one of the most powerful men in Hollywood – despite the aforementioned anti-Jewish tirade. Given the number of Jewish studio heads in Hollywood, it would have been what’s known as a SCLM (Serious Career-Limiting Move) for another actor – however, he managed to get away with it. Or perhaps it’s the fact he produces most of the films he appears in … so why does he choose to typecast himself?

While he is playing a familiar role in Edge of Darkness, what has changed (radically) is his face. Gibson has aged shockingly since his last appearance on screen. Whether it’s his hard-playing, hard-drinking, hard-smoking lifestyle, or the fact that he’s back to nights of broken sleep after his new squeeze, Oksana Grigorieva, produced probably the last thing he needed – another baby – Gibson is looking way older than his 53 years. His deeply furrowed face is almost unrecognisable. It’s a warning all the pretty boys of Hollywood should heed; generally they don’t age well (look out Brad Pitt, Bradley Cooper and Leonardo DiCaprio. Sean Connery, Robert Downey Jr and George Clooney – carry on, you’re doing it right). I met Gibson in the early 1980s; he used to live around the corner from me and I walked my dogs a kilometre out of my way every morning so I could say hello as he took the rubbish bins in. I’m lucky I wasn’t charged with stalking. Back then he was drop-dead gorgeous, albeit seriously short, a chain smoker and very very shy; now he is sporting deep wrinkles and two intriguing diagonal lines that start in the middle of each eyebrow and extend to the far upper corners of his forehead that put me in mind of the antennae that used to pop up from the head of My Favourite Martian’s Ray Walston on television in the 1960s.

Which reminds me of Gibson’s co-star in Edge of Darkness, Ray Winstone. Woefully under-utilised in this film, the brilliant and versatile Winstone (Sexy Beast, Beowulf) plays the enigmatic Captain Jedburgh, whose part in the conspiracy only becomes clear in the final scenes.

Bojana Novokovic, a Serbian-Australian actress who was cast in her first role at the age of 12, plays Craven’s daughter Emma. As Novokovic becomes more famous, just see how quickly the Serbian part of her description gets lost as we claim her as our own, as we did with Gibson, Crowe, Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts, and just about everyone else. The final scene is a bit creepy (in a bad way) with Craven and his daughter exiting a room with arms around each other’s waists; Novokovic is 29, just a few years younger than Gibson’s new partner.

Edge of Darkness will certainly entertain you, but it’s probably time for Mel to concentrate on his directing career again. After all, show me a man who can only play roles in movies about his family being slaughtered, and I’ll show you a wife who sleeps with one eye open.

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