On a pop-culture site I frequent, there’s a commenter who evaluates every movie in terms of “ownage.” Translated from the language of video gamers, that basically means beatdowns — or, as an anonymous wordsmith on Urban Dictionary puts it, “the act or state of perpetrating fierce and unholy domination against another.”
Taken, for instance, is a movie known for its old-guy-perpetrated ownage, not its repartee. People who liked that will probably hope for more of the same from Edge of Darkness, wherein craggy Boston cop Tom Craven (Mel Gibson) sets out to avenge the murder of his daughter.
The film does offer a solid 10 minutes or so of ownage — some inflicted by Gibson and some by Ray Winstone, playing a shadowy corporate fixer with a thick brogue. The problem is, the rest of it consists largely of people mumbling in dark rooms. Gibson gives an intense performance, to say the least, but he never seems to connect with anyone else — not even Winstone, with whose ambiguous character he’s supposed to be developing a strange rapport.
While some parts of the film drag, in others, director Martin Campbell suddenly jacks everything up to fever pitch. The results are unintentionally silly in a scene where Gibson meets with a young woman (Caterina Scorsone) who may be able to tell him why his grown daughter (Bojana Novakovic) was gunned down in front of his home. After the two actors engage in a scenery-chewing showdown, during which Scorsone’s character keeps redundantly whining, “I’m so scared,” she steps from his car and meets a fate so ludicrously well-timed it evokes a Final Destination movie.
Ownage? Lots. Groan-worthiness? That, too. The whole sequence seems especially gratuitous when one considers that the terrified witness could just as easily have slipped her evidence in the mail.
Of course, Craven is tangling with a heavy-duty conspiracy: one that could implicate his daughter’s powerful former employer, a defense contractor called Northmoor; its sinisterly purring head (Danny Huston); and (drum roll) even a U.S. senator (Damian Young). Edge of Darkness is based on a near-legendary BBC miniseries (also directed by Campbell) that struck a nerve back in 1985 with its Cold War-inspired depiction of collusion between the government and the nuclear industry. Drunk on the Gaia hypothesis, writer Troy Kennedy Martin took his conspiracy thriller into paranoid, apocalyptic and even eco-mystical territory. Sample line: “I believe the Earth goddess will defend herself against all dangers.”
Sounds like an attitude the Na’vi would go for. But, while Avatar is making it cool to hug trees again, you won’t hear any lines remotely like that in William Monahan and Andrew Bovell’s screenplay. They’ve reshaped Edge of Darkness into an ode to its stoic blue-collar hero — Gibson’s character is a Vietnam vet who dismisses the notion of PTSD — and his undying love for “his girl.” (Weirdly, his daughter’s mother is never mentioned, as if she sprang fully formed from Mel’s skull like Athena.)
If Craven unearths an unholy alliance of weapon makers, politicians and bad guys, so be it, but he really cares only about avenging his offspring — in short, about getting in his share of ownage. Need I say he does? While the screenwriters try to add moral layers to the movie — Winstone does some mumbling about F. Scott Fitzgerald and Diogenes — they only succeed in making it turgid. Rent the original — or feel owned.