Judge Clark Douglas lives on the edge...of the county line.
Our review of The Edge, published July 21st, 1999, is also available.
What if your greatest enemy was your only chance for survival?
"Say it. I'm going to kill the bear. Say it. SAY IT!"
Facts of the Case
Charles Morse (Anthony Hopkins, Fracture) is a billionaire with a tremendous intellect and a seemingly endless supply of knowledge. He's decided to spend his birthday in the Alaskan wilderness, taking his trophy wife (Elle MacPhereson, Batman and Robin) and several business associates along with him. One of these associates is Robert Green (Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock), a smug fashion photographer who may or may not be romantically involved with Charles' wife. Their relationship is a tense one, made even tenser when a plane crash places Charles, Robert, and Stephen (Harold Perrineau, Lost) in the middle of nowhere (which is quite a desolate place by Alaskan wilderness standards). The trio will be forced to work out their personal issues as they attempt to make their way back to civilization, fighting off starvation as they go. Ah, but that's not the worst of it: there's also a great big bear stalking them that just so happens to love the taste of human flesh.
For those who have more than a casual interest in the inner workings of Hollywood, The Edge is largely remembered for the problems it encountered while being filmed. This is largely due to the no-holds-barred account of the film's making in producer Art Linson's book, What Just Happened? (later made into a film starring Robert De Niro, who actually turned down the Hopkins role in The Edge due to not wanting to fight a fake bear), which told of woes from Alec Baldwin's refusal to shave his "Grizzly Adams beard" to the immense struggle to find a title for the movie (writer David Mamet wanted it to be called "Bookworm"). Anthony Hopkins nearly died during the making of the movie due to an on-set accident. However, when you put aside all of the external baggage and simply look at the final product, it's hard to deny that The Edge is a rather good film.
There's a telling scene early in the movie, as we're being introduced to the central characters. Charles is sitting by himself, buried in a book full of interesting bits of information on how to survive in the wild. Meanwhile, Robert is cheerfully chatting with some friends. One of them asks him about his watch. Robert explains that the watch automatically adjusts the time as he moves from time zone to time zone, so that, "If I'm in L.A. and want to know the time in New York, I don't have to go through the anguish of adding three." Obviously a joke, but it says a lot about who these men are. Charles is a man who chooses to be prepared for every situation; Robert's theory is to avoid work unless it absolutely has to be done.
Though the film partially takes on the structure of a horror-driven creature feature, it's ultimately about the conflict between brains and brawn. Robert is young, strong, and capable of covering more ground in a day, but he lacks Charles' wisdom and knowledge. When the two men are inevitably pitted against each other, their strengths and weaknesses are even further accentuated. The Edge may be an action/adventure/horror film about guys in the wilderness running from a killer bear, but it's about as intelligent and thoughtful as one can expect a film like that to be. This is largely due to the brilliant David Mamet's typically excellent writing. The dialogue is slightly less unmistakably Mametian than many of his screenplays, but we still get a generous supply of priceless exchanges:
Robert: "The wilderness isn't quite the same as the fashion world; it's
a bit different from snorting coke off a girl's hip bones."
The film manages to succeed in just about every important area. Director Lee Tamahori brings genuine excitement and tension to the action sequences, but ensures that the action never overwhelms the bigger ideas. Hopkins pretty much owns The Edge in the acting department, bringing an effortless intelligence and very subtle touches of sadness to his largely enigmatic performance. Baldwin isn't quite a match for Hopkins, but he does well enough (back in his movie star days, Baldwin played self-absorbed far better than heroic…contrast this performance to his lackluster turn in the previous year's Ghosts of Mississippi).
Donald McAlpine's cinematography is just gorgeous, accentuating the beautifully foreboding wilderness area in which the film takes place. Thankfully, this Blu-ray disc provides a better-than-expected transfer for a bare bones catalogue title, offering strong detail, rich blacks and warm flesh tones. The image is just a tiny bit jittery at times, but otherwise I have no significant complaints. The superb aerial shots look particularly breathtaking, allowing the viewer to soak in the atmosphere. Audio is also very strong, with the action scenes generating some genuine intensity at times. Jerry Goldsmith's regal, sweeping score is another huge asset to the movie, and it comes through with spine-tingling clarity. The sound design blends well with the dialogue and is quite well distributed. The only supplement on the disc is a theatrical trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While there's nothing wrong with Harold Perrineau's performance, it's obvious from the moment the plane crashes that his character only exists to die. Think about it: three people are trapped in the wilderness, a killer bear is on the loose, two of the three people are played by major movie stars. Granted, more than one person may eventually be taken down by the bear, but we're positive that it'll happen to Perrineau pretty early on. In fairness, it's a pretty terrifying bear killing, but it would have more terrifying if an actor of equal weight had been cast in the Perrineau part.
I've been a fan of The Edge for years, and I found it satisfactory as ever this time around…even moreso actually, thanks to a strong transfer and powerful audio. The lack of supplements is discouraging, but the disc is nonetheless worth an upgrade from the underwhelming DVD.
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