Movie review of 'The Edge'

October 14, 1997

Movie review

'The Edge'

Baldwin and Hopkins and a Bear, Oh My

Cut and paste, channel surf, heat up a microwave dinner and listen to Muzak. This is how most screenwriters work, borrowing lines, whole scenes even, from great films at best, awful sitcoms at worst. Although they are beginning to become more prominent - only because our multimedia voyeurism brings everything to more prominence - screenwriters no longer compose great billowing pages of plot and dialogue. They write a few action scenes, a few sex scenes, throw in some smug one-liners, and, ta-da, we have an Oscar-worthy film.

David Mamet has ears, though. He hears the way people talk, the surge of their words. As I started to really appreciate the craft of cinema, Mamet was the first writer I recognized as a true artist, someone who was not just interested in opening-weekend grosses and pay-per-view windows. His characters speak in rich cadences, their language is coarse and close. It also underpins with sorrow - beneath the shallow smooth talk is a yearning to communicate that cannot be quenched.


Two of the most interesting films I ever have seen have been "Glengarry Glenn Ross" and "Oleanna," both adapted from his own plays by Mamet. In each a limited cast of characters talk around issues with crackle and sadness - they are rushing, in speaking, to get to the heart of the matter, but at the same time retracting from the heart, fearing its dark color.

Focused in claustrophobic interiors, both films were dimly-lit and stagey. In "The Edge" the men - principal characters in a Mamet work are largely male; he does not quite understand the opposite sex - are drawn into the lightning white of the outdoors. The thrilling rush of oxygen colluded with the combustive quality of Mamet's verbal power creates one of the most entertaining movies of the year.

"How are you planning to kill me?" asks Charles (Anthony Hopkins) of Bob (Alec Baldwin) just as a flock of birds comes crashing through the windshield of the four-passenger plane they are traveling in. The plane falls, a radiant arc of red against the cool gray of winter sky and water. It does not take much to make a great scene, and "The Edge" has corkers like this one in abundance.

The rest of the film studies the way the lives of these two men - Charles, a bookish billionaire; Bob, a handsome photographer Charles suspects is sleeping with his trophy wife (Elle Macpherson) - unfold and double back as they struggle through the rugged terrain of mountains and morality. With Mamet's knife-sharp dialogue, Bob and Charles tear at one another, one with playboy cynicism, the other with well-aged wisdom. The two actors play the parts perfectly.

Hopkins never ceases to amaze me with his emotional and charactorial range. Whether he is portraying the brainy repugnance of Hannibal Lector ("Silence of the Lambs") or the hollow-souled melancholy of a dutiful English butler ("Remains of the Day"), he finds some vital truth about the human condition. Here he hits every various note of Charles with the exactness of an opera singer. He and Baldwin, who has never been better, churn up a machismo chemistry that blisters the screen.

Director Lee Tamahori observes all this with a sharpshooter's eye, picking up on the nuances of his actors as well as the scenery. He captures the crystalline beauty of the wilderness, as well as its root-dark underbelly. Even as the encounters of Bob and Charles with a scary bear grow redundant - Mamet fails to give the confrontations a "Moby Dick" metaphorical resonance, Tamahori fails to give them a "Jaws" razzmatazz energy - the story holds together tautly.

So the wife is a one-dimensional object of beauty, the third act is uneven and somewhat dull, and the final scene is curiously moralistic.

"The Edge" barrels right through these obstacles. Mamet keeps charging forward with his brilliant inquiries of masculinity, and the directors, actors, and bear keep up with him as best they can.

Jason is a senior at North Hagerstown High School.

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