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Edge of Darkness, Crazy Heart 

EDGE OF DARKNESS

**1/2

Although based on a 1985 British TV miniseries, the new thriller Edge of Darkness mostly feels like The Constant Gardener shorn of all emotional complexity and weighty plotting. That hardly matters, though: Edge of Darkness could have played like an episode of Sesame Street and audiences would still turn out just to answer the pressing question: So, what's Mel been up to these days? It's been eight years since Mel Gibson has handled a leading role on the big screen (2002's Signs), and he's spent the time since then directing the biggest moneymaking snuff film of all time, getting in trouble with the bottle, with the law and with the wife, and being brilliantly parodied in a memorable episode of South Park. And now he's back in Edge of Darkness, and while his off-screen antics have noticeably aged him -- he almost looks the same age as Harrison Ford in Extraordinary Measures, even though Ford is 13 years older -- he hasn't lost a step when it comes to exuding that undeniable movie-star magnetism. Gibson plays Thomas Craven, a widowed Boston cop who's elated that his grown daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) has come home for a visit. But father and child are only together for a few hours before Emma is brutally murdered. While everyone assumes the assailant was gunning for her dad, the devastated Craven suspects otherwise once he starts snooping around and finds that all signs point toward Emma's former place of employment: Northmoor, a shady corporation with all sorts of underhanded ties to the government. The company's CEO (Danny Huston, who also clocked time in The Constant Gardener) is clearly corrupt, but what's Craven to make of a mysterious English chap named Jedburgh (Ray Winstone), who pops up at odd hours to utter cryptic phrases before disappearing back out of sight? Edge of Darkness is effective as a cathartic revenge yarn, at least until the absurdities begin to pile up during the final half-hour. Most of the villains are laughable even by the standards of one-dimensional action flicks, while Jedburgh, the most interesting character, requires more scenes in order to make his character arc more believable. Winstone still steals the film through sheer personality, but the script doesn't provide him with much assistance. As for Gibson, he's just fine in the sort of role that's been his bread-and-butter for the majority of his career: the maverick out to right a massive wrong by any gory means necessary. It's not exactly a fresh interpretation -- one reason the similar Taken works better than this picture is because we're not used to seeing Liam Neeson in such a part -- but it demonstrates that Gibson knows the best way to reconnect with his sizable fan base is by giving them what they expect and nothing more. And now that the edge has been removed from his public persona, can the career resurrection be far behind?

CRAZY HEART

***

Robert Duvall appears in a supporting role in Crazy Heart and also serves as one of the film's producers. His participation in this project makes complete sense: He wanted to personally hand the baton off to Jeff Bridges. After all, Duvall won his Best Actor Academy Award for 1983's Tender Mercies, and now here comes four-time nominee Bridges, the odds-on favorite to finally win his own Oscar for playing the same type of role essayed by Duvall -- that of a rumpled, boozing, country & western star who enters into a relationship with a sympathetic woman at least two decades his junior. Bridges' grizzled character goes by the name Bad Blake, and that first name describes less the man who bears it -- he's fundamentally decent although, like most drunks, irresponsible and exhausting -- than the circumstances of his present lot in life. Washed up, perpetually inebriated, and playing honky-tonk dives while his protégée, Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), fills up massive arenas, Blake stays in the fight even though the odds are against him ever achieving any renewed success. But suddenly, unexpected developments on the personal and professional fronts hold real promise. Sweet turns up and, clearly fond of his former mentor, offers him an opening slot on his tour and the opportunity to write new songs for him. And Blake, a multiple divorce' and unrepentant womanizer, finds a chance at a lasting relationship when he meets and falls for reporter Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a single mom whose young son also melts Blake's heart. Will Blake finally encounter true happiness, or will he find some way to screw everything up? Adapting Thomas Cobbs' novel (although he might as well have been adapting Horton Foote's Tender Mercies script), writer-director Scott Cooper throws enough curve balls into the expected plotting to keep the narrative from completely dissolving into formula. For instance, one of the nicest touches in the film is that Sweet isn't the back-stabbing opportunist we anticipated but a respectful guy whose brand of neo-country showmanship simply appeals more to today's breed of country fan than Blake's traditional approach. The scenes between the two musicians are among the best in the movie, with Farrell seemingly as awed by Bridges as Sweet is by Blake. (Added bonus: Both stars do their own singing.) Farrell's contribution is a solid one, and he and Paul Herman (in a sharp turn as Blake's agent) are the only performers even worth noting among the supporting players -- Duvall is wasted as Blake's longtime buddy, while the talented Gyllenhaal never completely convinces us that her character would shack up with Blake. Otherwise, this is Bridges' show from start to finish, and he seems to be taking particular glee in letting it all hang out (sometimes literally, as a generous gut is frequently glimpsed bursting through an open shirt). Jeff Bridges is a great actor and Bad Blake a great character, and that's more than enough to make this otherwise unexceptional picture sing.

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