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Edge of Darkness

After taking a nearly eight-year break from leading roles, during which he directed and produced one film, the violent Mayan epic Apocalypto, and suffered one rather infamous public meltdown, Mel Gibson returns to the big screen with a vengeance — literally — in Edge of Darkness, a gritty political thriller directed by Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) and written by William Monahan (The Departed).

Revenge is a dominant theme in Gibson's work — along with torture and religion, it forms the Holy Trinity of the actor-director's filmmaking obsessions — and the role of Thomas Craven, a veteran Boston homicide detective who goes rogue in order to hunt down the men responsible for his daughter's murder, is right in his wheelhouse. But even though Gibson is at the top of his game in Edge of Darkness, the film's "renegade cop" bit would still feel stale and played-out were it not for the solid work of Monahan and Campbell, who together remind us that in the hands of talented filmmakers, even the most conventional of concepts can be made fresh and interesting again.

Nonetheless, the notion of seeing Gibson's face in an actual movie, and not in the pages of some tabloid, is pretty strange at first, and I'm convinced that's why Campbell depicts the murder of Craven's daughter — the inciting event of Edge of Darkness — with shocking brutality, blowing nearly half her torso away with a shotgun blast to the abdomen. The grisly scene — an early nominee for next year's WTF?!? Awards — shifts our focus from Mel as tabloid curiosity to Mel as angry, grieving father in sudden and dramatic fashion.

And Mel's the T-1000 of angry, grieving fathers, his weathered and weary face seething with barely-contained rage as he stalks his daughter's assailants with grim, unwavering determination. The trail lands him waist-deep in a fascinatingly complex conspiracy involving secret nuclear stockpiles, shady defense contractors, duplicitous government bureaucrats, effete senators, and corrupt cops (but thankfully no Jews, as far as I could tell). And while none of those things matter much to Gibson's character, who simply wants to ass-rape every douchebag that stands between him and sweet, sweet vengeance, they're crucial to us, keeping us riveted to our seats throughout this taut, pulse-pounding thriller. rated this film 3 1/2 stars.