The Passion of the Craven

If you are the ass of a bad guy, prepare to be kicked. Mad Max lives in Boston now.

Twenty-five years ago, British TV director Martin Campbell helmed the successful six-part mini-series Edge of Darkness, a gritty story of a police inspector trying to figure out if he was the actual target when his daughter got murdered — or if she was hiding something.

In an odd turn of events, Campbell, with films including Bond entries GoldenEye and Casino Royale under his belt, returns to that source material, now trimmed down to a compelling two hours and nicely contemporized.

Set in Boston, the film kicks into high gear just a couple of minutes in. Adult daughter Emma Craven (Bojana Novakovic) has come home to visit her widowed dad, homicide detective Thomas Craven (Mel Gibson, in his first starring role since Signs in 2002). They’re happy together for a moment, but in short order, she starts gushing blood, weakly says, “Dad, there’s something I’ve got to tell you,” and is blown away by a shotgun blast from outside the front door.

Let the complications begin! Whoever did the shooting also yelled out the name “Craven.” So was it meant for the veteran cop or the innocent bystander?

Structured as a whodunit as well as a why-was-it-done, the script spends the rest of the filming exposing layer after layer of different characters’ backgrounds. Oddly, the cleanest guy seems to be the cop, who’s convinced — against the logic of every cop movie ever — that he has no enemies.

Sporting a pretty darn good Boston accent, but spending much of the fi lm silently staring into space, with anger and grief all over his face, Gibson turns in a great performance. He’s equally effective when happily hallucinating that Emma is still with him, though only as a young girl, or in intense, barely whispered conversation with the enigmatic Jedburgh (Ray Winstone), who’s some sort of cleaner, the guy who takes care of things when national security issues get out of control.

Lest Gibson fans think this thing is all talk, don’t worry. The action may not be plentiful, but when it comes ripping across the screen, it’s unforgettable. And Mel is still up to the task, notably in a gun-vs.-knife fi ght with a guy half his age.

There’s a point, about halfway in, when Craven is having some words with a lawyer, where something snaps, both in the character and in Gibson’s acting style.

His intensity ramps up and the film turns vicious.

In fact, the film’s violence is in some way a character of its own. Like the daughter’s death at the beginning, it visits at the most inopportune times — always fast and hard. There’s no distracting slo-mo in this movie. In a recent interview, director Campbell proudly said, “Most violent acts come out of nowhere — they happen in the blink of an eye. You never quite know exactly what happened. And that was the principle of this, really.”

With the threat of that violence hiding around most corners, Campbell and company give us something close to a travelogue of Boston, grabbing iconic shots all over the city and suburbs, and peopling it with all kinds of people not to trust. When Detective Craven pays a visit to his daughter’s place of work to talk with her boss (Danny Huston), you can feel the creepiness oozing from the guy. When he checks out a senator (Damian Young) who might be hiding a few secrets, it’s easy to believe that his middle name could be Smarmy.

This is a solid thriller, tackling all sorts of political, capitalistic and emotional issues. To the filmmakers’ credit, the violence is brutal but never exploitative. And almost magically, there’s a gentle, haunting ending that simply and effectively eases you out of the carnage.

INK! at the Drive-In @ Hayden Discount Cinema

Wed., Sept. 29
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