Darkness style showcases Gibson, still seems forced

Most movies that are released in Jan. fall into one of two categories: the Oscar hopefuls going wider from their limited release, and the failed blockbusters that studios quietly drop to die a quick death. certainly doesn’t belong to the former and skirts dangerously close to falling into the latter.

In his first lead acting role in eight years, Mel Gibson plays Thomas Craven, a Boston detective whose emotional reunion with his only daughter is cut quickly short by an assassin’s bullet. While the Boston Police is looking at criminals with ties to the case, Craven uncovers evidence that point to his daughter being the intended target. The rabbit hole goes deep here, which involves big government conspiracies mixed with the standard revenge plot.

While such a conspiracy may have worked in the original BBC miniseries over the course of many hours, the escalation of stakes quickly becomes ludicrous in , the film. There is simply not a single moment of the plot that is believable.

Now, one may wonder why this is a problem. Don’t we go to the movies for increasingly ludicrous plots that bend the very fibers of our imagination? Of course we do. Yet, this approach fails in a film that hinges so closely on a father’s grief for his departed daughter. Examples include long scenes where Craven scatters his daughter’s ashes on a beloved childhood beach. Mel Gibson isn’t in his typical big action movie mode here and neither are the vast majority of his co-stars, who largely seem to be plucked from the Boston area where the movie was shot.

Some of the blame for this incongruous nature must fall to director Martin Campbell, whose recent works include a part in the Bond franchise, . That was certainly one of the grittier of Bond films, but it remained polished as befitting its subject. When this polish is applied to scenes of Craven washing his daughter’s blood off of his hands, it ultimately rings false.

There is only one aspect of the film where this polish works, and it is all in the scenes that feature the mysterious operative played by British actor Ray Winstone. The scenes between Gibson and Winstone are the very best in the film, as both men place a cautious trust in one another. To say more would be criminal and rob one of the few pleasures the film easily affords.

The rest of the blame can fall at the feet of the film’s producers, who decided after the initial cut of the film to reshape it more into the action movie mold. This explains much of the film’s randomly accelerated pace which lurches like a 15-year-old learning to drive a stick shift. Casting a drama type to an action movie type is only a successful operation when you can be sure you’ve got an action movie somewhere in there. In this case, the action pickings were slim, even if Gibson chews on lines such as “You’ve got a decision to make…to be the one hanging up the cross or banging in the nails.”

This is all rather a shame, because Gibson is quite excellent in the film, as far as films of this type go. Even as the events of the film spiral out of control, Gibson’s rage mixed with sorrow becomes the most believable aspect of the film, the anchor to which the whole enterprise perilously clings. It is a reminder of Gibson’s star power, even as details of his personal life cast him in a less than flattering light. While can hardly be recommended in its current form, one hopes that there is a better Director’s Cut out there somewhere for posterity.