God loves Mel Gibson. And how could He not? Mel’s entire career is about abasing himself; metaphorically (and, one infamous night in Malibu, literally) rending his shirt and crying: “What are you looking at, sugar tits?” Some people might walk around as if they were carrying a cross; Mel Gibson made The Passion of the Christ. Even when he was drunk and leering at Malibu police officers, there was a sense he was shaming himself for us. But God looks kindly on a guilty conscience. Lethal Weapon, Braveheart, What Women Want… all the superfluous torture Mel’s put himself through. He’s at it again in Edge of Darkness. (Note to Mel: God knows you’ve sinned.)
As Mel mutters a prayer over the murdered body of his daughter (so washed in blood, she looks like she’s been shot by a cannon), you know why Mel is in this movie. He is going to suffer. It won’t be enough for him to kill everyone even remotely involved with his daughter’s death, he’s going to be irradiated, shot, beaten, and electrocuted while doing it. Mel is a Boston police detective, according to the script. Look at Mel and you see only a martyr. Does the title of the movie even need explaining with Mel Gibson as the star? What follows next is the bloodiest episode of Columbo you can imagine. Picture Peter Falk with stigmata instead of a cigar.
Age makes Mel Gibson resemble a bible; one of those family bibles passed down through generations. He looks like he’s been at a funeral for twenty years. In Edge of Darkness, his daughter is the one good thing in his life. With her gone, Mel is free to shut the world out. He has an interesting conversation with a U.S. senator in the movie, telling him: “You had better decide whether you’re hangin’ on the cross or bangin’ in the nails.” It’s here, you realise Mel’s whole career has been about doing both. If he’d directed The Muppet’s Christmas Carol, you’d have witnessed The Passion of Kermit the Frog. He beats up a peacenik in this movie to show us his attitude towards forgiveness (Mel to peacenik: “Eat fist, Buddha boy!”)
In order to make Mel appear (at least in theory) “the good guy”, Danny Huston’s villain is given every indicator of villainy the film-maker’s can think of: he’s rich; he wears a dressing gown; his villain H.Q. looks like a cross between a golf course and Dracula’s castle. He even asks Mel, “What did it feel like?” (in a weirdly sexual manner) when Mel tells him how his daughter died. No wonder Mel says: “You know you deserve this” before shooting Huston in the neck (this, after Huston has already been forced to drink irradiated milk). If Danny was any more Mr. Nasty, he’d have a puppy pinned to his lapel.
As the éminence grise who helps Mel find the bad guys, Ray Winstone seems a strange choice for a top U.S. government fixer. For one thing, he’s from London. There’s scarcely an actor on Earth who could less plausibly have spent a lifetime doing C.I.A. dirty-work. But Winstone isn’t fazed by incongruities. He has a loaded conversation with Mel about public drinking, and he looks like the sort of pub landlord who would still have served Mel even after “sugar tits”-gate. You sense Winstone was cast as the start of a rapprochement between “Gibbo” and Britain. The Heineken-green isle in the Atlantic is far more accepting of drunken rants than the U.S.
A few years ago, when Mel Gibson was shooting Apocalypto in the Mexican jungle, a photo went around of Mel with the cast. It helps, I think, to explain the man. In the picture, he’s surrounded by extras in ancient Mayan costume; his beard looks like a volcanic eruption; everything behind him is shrouded in smoke. Mel looks ecstatic. He looks like Cortés after peeing in an Aztec pool. This is Mel in his element; in the jungle, where everything wants to eat him. Mel and God are closer here than in Malibu. In Malibu (Gomorrah of the Golden State), God is a 40-watt lightbulb. In the jungle, He’s a Klieg light. Faith is easier where darkness eats men.