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Well, we all know what the facts are. We live a while, and then we die sooner than we planned.


Edge of Darkness


Self-evidently, it was daft to even attempt to remake the BBC’s seminal serial Edge of Darkness, that brooding 1980s document of nuclear dread. It was pretty much perfectly formed, a signature piece of the inevitable, apocalyptic twilight of humanity. It also set director Martin Campbell on the road to Hollywood director status, cheerful skin flicks and Derek and Clive long behind him. You’d have thought his return to pastures ploughed here was a foolish and pointless choice, as directors who have done similarly (most frequently English-language versions of their originals) have rarely reaped dividends. That Edge of Darkness stands on its own two feet is something of a minor miracle, then. No, I don’t think it ever quite justifies its existence, but it’s a more than solid, jaundiced thriller in its own right, while maintaining Troy Kennedy Martin’s essential theme of loss, bereavement and inevitable mortality. 

The original came during the last bloom of the nuke lie*, give or take a Fukishima; there’d been Three Mile Island, then Reagan refuelling Cold War rhetoric, and Chernobyl was to land a year later. The terminal threat of the nuke couldn’t have been more potent, and Troy Kennedy Martin’s downbeat rumination on grief and assured destruction was enormously potent and palpable. Attempting to recapture that a quarter of century later was a mug’s game (although, again, a – stated – global nuclear accident would occur the year after its release). 

Andrew Bovell had attempted to compress the original faithfully, but it was William Monahan who reframed the proceedings; Campbell observed that they’d been unable to replicate the original’s third act “wow” factor (Bovell had scenes in tunnels under Northmoor). Monahan focussed on Craven’s loss and the relationship with his daughter, and set the “villainous” sights on “deniability culture” rather than mushroom cloud on the horizon (there’s nothing here like Jedburgh’s “Get it while it’s hot!” rebuke of atomic power).

The picture preserves nukes, then, and has Emma Craven (Bojana Novakovi) murdered on father Thomas’ (Gibson) doorstep, with the initial assumption her cop dad was the target. She’s actually working for the facility, though (rather than being a student activist with Gaia) and positioned as a whistleblower (so preceding Snowden). Post-mortem, she still talks to dad (but mostly, we see her as a child, rather than her adult self coaxing him). 

Jedburgh (Ray Winstone) still gives Craven pointers, but he’s decidedly less imposing (they don’t visit Northmoor together, which is where they get poisoned in the original, Jedburgh stealing the plutonium Northmoor was illegally storing). Yes, Jedburgh is nominally an agency good guy, since he’s allied with the actual good guy, but we’re under no doubt he does very bad things, has done very bad things for a very long time, and is very good at doing very bad things. 

Emma is poisoned here (with thallium in her milk) rather than exposed to contaminated water. Dad is also poisoned (which I’ll come to). Jedburgh is not poisoned; he’s terminally ill, however, which gives him a certain motivation to divine, and address, more clearly the honourable from the corrupt. Northmoor has its own private security in both, and Craven has witnesses offed by them in both. The state is, of course, duplicitous and cynical in both, although one might argue this is even more de facto come the remake (in that it barely raises a murmur, while the original still bears the traces of ’70s conspiracy outrage). 

Millroy: They own a number of Defence Department contracts. It’s not an Agency front, if that’s what you think. It’s a real private company.
Jedburgh: That is unusual.

Does the inauthentic nature of the nuke threat make the original Edge of Darkness any less a triumph? I’d argue not; one can transpose its general theme and atmosphere regardless of atomic power. Undoubtedly, though, believing there is veracity to the dread only adds to its resonance. 

The remake takes its cues from the post-War on Terror landscape, where – similarly, to a degree – the terrorist threat is a manufactured one. No one is saying 9/11 is an inside job here, but Northmoor, a “real private company”, while claiming itself as an R&D facility – in aid of a safe and clean energy source based on fusion technology: “It’s very green” – and one that deals in raw materials, rather than weapons – “We ensure the nation’s nuclear stockpile remains ready for the President’s order” – turns out to be “making nuclear weapons. But these are not American nuclear weapons”. They are “designed to specifications and built with foreign materials”, such that any investigation into these devices will trace them “to another country, not the United States”. Basically, the Defence Department (or Black Ops) is contracting Northmoor to produce weaponry that will be “made to look like jihadist dirty bombs”. 

So, perhaps beside the point, could this version be read with nukes being fake? Well, you could still have the poisoning (the activists are killed by irradiated steam). Radioactivity doesn’t require splitting atoms, and the whole nuclear industry is built on the illusion of producing (nuclear) power and building (nuclear) bombs. Emma only needs to believe it’s bona fide, as the vast majority do. Indeed, since the movie has built-in fakery (the government is inventing/promulgating the War on Terror through false-flag operations), it could be argued as merely one step further, if that (and besides, these dirty bombs don’t have to go off. The whole conversation with nukes is constructed around their potential rather than action, since the first two “did”. There’s the additional factor at play here of any good conspiracy, that you highlight something dodgy to your keenly attentive audience – the government, politicians, corporations – while the validity of something even more deeply suspect is reinforced. So in this case, no one questions whether the conspiracy is founded on something real, because it’s a conspiracy. See also virus theory). 

Craven: Are you on my side?
Jedburgh: That’s hard to tell. Do you know the Scott Fitzgerald thing about an artist who’s a man with opposing ideas in his head, and he believes in them both simultaneously?
Craven: Heard of it. Yeah.
Jedburgh: Well, that’s sort of the beginning of it.
Craven: So what’s that like, not being anyone in particular?
Jedburgh: I don’t know what it means to have lost a daughter. But I know what it means never to have had one.

Jedburgh isn’t the iconic presence of Joe Don Baker in the original, but Ray Winstone does a more-than-serviceable job; his relaxed, knowing demeanour suits the part (contrast this with his flat-out terrible turn in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull two years earlier). For Jedburgh, corruption and sleaze are simply a fact of life, “making things unintelligible for the past thirty years”. He hasn’t suddenly gone soft-hearted at the end, stricken with a terminal prognosis, but he has found himself able to recognise the more honourable option taken in his current assignment. As he says to Craven “I do sometimes feel like that Diogenes. You know the guy who walked around with a lamp. Looking for an honest man”, and it’s evidently something that has been creeping up on him, aware that any part of him that once saw himself under its glow has long since been extinguished (“Do you see a soul in there?” he asks his doctor, who is examining his eyes). 

Jedburgh: Now, you know better than anyone, cases like these are never solved. They’re simply too complicated. Too much hard work. And there’s a lot going on out there in this world. You just never can connect A to B.
Craven: How do you know that?
Jedburgh: Cos I’m usually the guy that stops you connecting A to B. It’s part of what I do.

But Jedburgh understands Emma’s motivation, what it was that roused her to “activism” (“There’s a point where anybody can become an activist. I mean, you see something happen that’s so wrong, you have to act. Even if it means the end of you”), and he is immediately inclined to Craven’s mission, even though it would be appropriate to his remit to stop him (“Are you on my side?” asks Craven. “I haven’t decided” comes the reply, but that he hasn’t killed Craven is the answer right there). He’s amused and impressed by Craven’s righteousness – “And you, an officer of the court” – and even in his first scene, he is intimating that he is no longer beholden to nominal rules set by others: “Are you absolutely sure you want me to look into this? You have to be absolutely sure”, he asks Millroy (David Aaron Baker), who will wind up dead once Jedburgh has pronounced his findings. It’s notable too that he has absolutely no time for lifestyle-choice activists Nightflower (“Tree huggers, militants, New Age fuck-ups. Sometimes they blow shit up. Infrequently, and not very well”).

Greta would doubtless blanche at the general disdain of Nightflower – “Nightflower is a pack of paranoid, anti-corporate hubristic freaks” – but in the light of how exactly it is they are being manipulated, the characterisation is more appropriate than the general veneration of Gaia in the original. The real threats are those that pass unnoticed. Emma comments that she is under “constant surveillance”, but this is simply an established fact of life (Enemy of the State: it’s made abundantly clear even in Hollywood movies). An actual (or CIA) whistleblower would actually blow the whistle with regard to such activities, but somehow not fall dead of poisoning or anything else before he blew that whistle (the poisoning here may also be designed to echo the fate – or alleged fate, anyway, since there’s a whole lot of murk in that case – of Leventko with polonium in 2006. Most of the comments on the movie refer to thallium poisoning, but Mel cites to caesium when he’s with the senator). There’s no protection for doing the right thing, going through the right channels, because the politicians are corrupt (relying on party donations and the necessaries the corporate brings to the economy) while the security services are in on it because the Defence Department has contracts with the corporate. 

Craven: Is Northmoor part of DARPA? 
Jedburgh: Well, it’s hard to tell.

If anything, Jedburgh is more of a loose cannon than in the original; there, the CIA is investigating malfeasance rather than conniving. Here, he goes in with knowledge that he’s being corrupt for corrupt people and throws a bomb in their midst. “You’ve got a DARPA file” (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency) he tells Craven (Emma had one too as a terrorist threat – for trying to do the right thing, obviously). He also notes the slogan of their Information Awareness Office. “Scientia est Potentia”: “knowledge is power”. Quite apt for an organisation with an eye in the pyramid capturing a globe Earth under its spell. 

Jedburgh: Now the real story here, gentlemen, is “United States Senator escapes assassination”. Anyone who looks at the rest of this is going to see that something happened. But no one’s gonna be able to figure it out. That’s your objective. To make it so convoluted that anyone can have a theory. But no one’s got the facts.

Jedburgh ultimately decides to do what Craven cannot (although, Craven is really concerned with bringing Bennett to justice); he kills the senator (Damian Young), and Millroy and Moore (Denis O’Hare). He then questions a security guard on his familial status; since the guard is married with a child, Jedburgh elects to let him shoot him. 

Jedburgh:  I’ve been making things unintelligible for the past thirty years.

In some respects, this is the real climax of the movie, as while Craven facing down Bennett (Danny Huston) is cathartically more pleasing, it’s diminished somewhat by making Bennett such an unmoderated villain. Not only do we have him all-but twirling an invisible psychopath’s moustache when he asks Craven, of the loss of his daughter “Can I ask a question? How does it feel?”, but Melissa (Caterina Scorsone) is also given to warn Craven that Bennett is “completely fucking insane”; it would have been much more effective not to ramp this up quite so much, even if it serves to underline that Northmoor, with its “own security fiefdom”, has acted like a bull in a china shop (Moore has immediately warned Bennett of the foolishness of his response, that the dead bring with them “lovers, friends, relatives, a billion loose ends”). When Craven tells Bennett “Deep down, you know you deserve this”, we think, no he really doesn’t (know). 

Jedburgh: I’ve decided what this country is.
Senator: What’s that?
Jedburgh: People who deserve better.

Jedburgh’s unamused reaction when Moore, Millroy and the senator laugh at the latter’s “Thank god for that’ on learning Craven can no longer speak in his deteriorated stated doesn’t help the trio’s chances. I don’t think that’s the clincher for him, or even the senator then admonishing him that circumstances would not have “got to this extremity had he done what the situation clearly dictated”: “Senator, I don’t think you realise what side of this situation you’re on” Jedburgh replies. If he has played it cool, Craven has let it all hang out: “I’m the guy with nothing to lose and doesn’t give a shit. You tell him that” he says to Sanderman (Peter Hermann). It’s only when Melissa tries to give him a consoling hug that he requires composure (“Look, honey, I can’t take this”). 

Craven: You know, Bill, no one expects you to be perfect. But there’s just a few basic things you gotta get right. Always do the best you can by your family. Go to work every day. Always speak your mind. Never hurt anyone that doesn’t deserve it… & never take anything from the bad guys.

It’s a strong Mel performance, one that shows the eight years away from a starring role all over his face, and all that has transpired in between (it would be his last such lead commanding any kind of major budget, since a further controversy consumed him a few months after the picture was released). I don’t think the Craven relationship is haunting the way it is in the original, perhaps because it’s left to us to consider whether Emma is just his mind at work there (the only intimation otherwise here is their walking from the hospital at the end). 

It’s also, while Mel confessed to having to be stiller in his performance here, one where its gauged on his character being combustive at intervals, so in his wheelhouse, so to speak. Essentially, though, Edge of Darkness is unable to go that extra mile to make the material seem more than just a very decent conspiracy/relationship thriller. It’s easy to see why it appealed to Mel, as beyond having been impressed when he saw it in the ’80s – “It reflect its time very well” – the “Jacobean tragedy” quality reflects his martyr’s instinct (The Passion pf the Christ, Braveheart). Of course, Mel had earlier produced The Singing Detective through Icon (and had flirted with The Prisoner), so he evidently had a keen eye for iconic British fare, however much he may have sniffed at the nation onscreen. The CD sent to the news reporter is obviously designed to offer a kernel of hope in regard to the martyrdom, but that’s one of the false conceits of the movies, that going to the press can make a difference. 

One of the points of contention with the picture’s internal logic is just how it is that Craven is poisoned. Theories have run the gamut of exposure to his daughter’s blood, hair and ashes, to being in his shaving cream or burger, to the ginger ale Bennett gives him. Even to the bottle of Crown Royal he shares with Jedburgh (under the misapprehension that, because Jedburgh refers to hallucinations of his dead father, that this is a symptom of radiation sickness, so he must also be poisoned). Some have suggested he purposefully drank the milk (which is daft). 

It’s evident it wasn’t when he was taken to the steam tunnel (he was already coughing up). This leaves the assumption that doesn’t quite make sense, that it was consuming his daughter’s milk (which he discovers is radioactive). It’s certainly the only evident signal the movie offers us, but it doesn’t really add up. How would it be known he’d drink it? The villains seem to think he will consume something that can be attributed to being passed on to him accidentally by his daughter. Maybe he has milk on his cereal, but we only ever see him drinking ginger ale. It seems that he uses her toothbrush in the script, but that still doesn’t really make sense of the villains’ “It’s too late. It’s already been done” (as it sounds directed and express, rather than a side effect of already laid plans). 

With regard to inconsistencies, while it’s largely unclear what precisely was added in reshoots – the picture’s budget bloomed to $80m, so I’m guessing it was in the $60m range originally – it’s generally recognised they were to beef up the action. The obvious culprit is the rather daft steam-tunnel sequence where the goons (one of whom is Frank Grillo) show up and taser Craven. He comes to at Northmoor, handcuffed to a chair, promptly kills a guy and steals another’s car… and that’s it. It has no bearing on anything, other than to make you wonder why they want to irradiate someone already poisoned and not just off him somewhere. 

Otherwise, though… Well, the hit-and-run with Melissa is a stunning set piece, rounded off by Mel doing some classic bravura shooting of bad guys. I find it difficult to believe such an expert sequence was a hastily devised reshoot improv. Possibly the one where he eludes his pursuers through a men’s room window and blows out their tyres, then confronts Bennett (but that seems designed to pay off Bennett’s earlier psycho question with “What does it feel like, hmm?”) Maybe the final confrontation was less gun-ready than what we see (shooting two security guys, then a milk-riddled Bennett) but the “Say my name” also seems essential (to prove Grillo was the assassin).

Either way, it seems they were extensive enough that John Corigliano (classical composer of The Red Violin) was replaced by Howard Shore; while Corigliano was asked back, he refused, saying he wouldn’t have signed had he realised the action-driven turn it would take. So that would certainly have compounded the cost (Shore doesn’t come cheap). There was also the firing of Robert De Niro (that’s the former Robert De Niro) over “creative differences”. It seemshe was fired because he didn’t memorise his lines”. However, he was nevertheless paid his full $8m fee, as the producer wanted to use him in a prospective Scorsese film.

Edge of Darkness made as much as it cost, so it counts as a resounding bomb. Campbell would follow it with a bigger bomb, The Green Lantern, one that permanently put paid to any blockbuster dalliances (unless he’s asked back to introduce the next Bond, presumably). Gibson has circled the plughole since, as villains, in supporting turns, or the lead in low-budget efforts. He has, alarmingly, taken to cheapo VOD movies for the guys who brought you bargain-basement Bruce and Nic (his name’s on SEVEN 2022 movies, only two of which – Father Stu and Last Looks – might be regarded as having any artistic aspirations). Maybe he’s gathering cash for the The Passion of the Christ: Resurrection. 

Whether the mooted likes of Destroyer, The Wild Bunch remake and Lethal Weapon V ever see the light of day is anyone’s guess – he’s directing Wahlberg in a movie next – but Mel is a Hollywood White Hat, so perhaps there’ll be a genuine career resurgence at some point, rather than the splutter of Hacksaw Ridge (not a great movie, but one that surprisingly saw “forgiven” awards recognition). All his directorial efforts have made money, so he’s presumably a safer bet to financiers (if he isn’t self-financing) in that regard than trying to be Mel of old. Edge of Darkness tries, perhaps through the reshoots, to keep a toe in that pool, but its strength still lies in the source material (and credit to Monahan; I haven’t liked much he’s written, but this is much more serviceable than anyone might have reasonably expected).

*Addendum 24/06/23: So, I’ve been chasing the wrong conspiracy with this one, it seems. It’s almost inevitable that, when you think you’ve grasped the nettle of some subjects, you instead get stung to blue blazes. There’s long-standing theorising concerning the legitimacy of the nuke threat, and of nuclear technology generally, it took me a while to warm to it (probably in the last three or four years). Warm to it I did, though, and it seemed Q & A answers were confirming the counterfeit nature of the subject (this, however, as tends to be the case, was based on misconception of the parameters of the response).  The concomitant threat of mutually assured destruction is another matter, however, since one does not necessarily follow on from the other.

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