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"Edge of Darkness" a Portrait of Mad Mel

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    NEWSLETTERS

    One thing for certain about Mel Gibson -- he hasn't lost that edge that made him so appealing in "Mad Max" and "Lethal Weapon."  There's just this feeling when he's on the screen that he very easily could go postal at any moment.

    That trademark intensity is clearly evident in Gibson's return to the screen in "Edge of Darkness," Gibson's first acting role in a turbulent seven years.

    "There's a lot of anger out there," Gibson said in a recent conference promoting "Darkness." This smoldering rage was present in his lesser works, including 1999's revenge fantasy "Payback," and the even more transparent "Paparazzi," which was funded by Gibson's film company (he played an anger management patient in a cameo).

    These films and "Darkness" make for a scintillating character study about Gibson's personal demons. That doesn't make them good films.

    In "Darkness," Boston homicide detective (Thomas Craven) is already a pathetic, angry character before his beloved, but estranged, daughter is gunned down next to him on his front porch. The assassins yell out the name "Craven" before opening fire, something that is clearly only practiced in Hollywood Hitman School.

    Craven assumes they were shooting for him, but missed. He soon finds out that his daughter was messing around with some dangerous, powerful men who weren't happy with her. He follows the trail of clues vowing a revenge that will not require handcuffs.

    The convoluted plot is so jawdroppingly preposterous at times that it's probably best just to sit back and enjoy the car crashes. Even the appearance of the eminently watchable Ray Winstone as some kind of shadowy international fixer cannot save the day. Gibson huffs and puffs, but mostly comes across as crazed. To be fair, the script has him drinking very bad milk.

    Gibson is at his most compelling in a quiet scene where he pours himself and Winstone a glass of whiskey and doesn't touch it during the conversation. Once again, it's the real Mel Gibson, whose public struggle with alcohol is well-documented, who causes the most profound thought. You want to know what Mel Gibson is thinking at that moment.

    Great psychological discussion. Great cinema? Not so much.