On DVD/Blu-ray – Review: The Edge (1997)
by NIR SHALEV
Billionaire Charles Morse (Sir Anthony Hopkins), his supermodel/trophy wife Mickey (Elle Macpherson), her photographer Robert Green (Alec Baldwin), and his crew arrive at an enormous and beautiful lake house in Alaska. They are surrounded by beautiful mountains and lakes that stretch to forever. Charles is book smart; almost too smart. His people skills, outside the business world, are essentially non-existent. He’s awkward, quiet, always inquisitive, and always reading one book or other. But he sees the way in which Robert looks at Mickey.
Robert decides to look for an old school-looking Native American so that he can include him in his photography and is joined on the venture by crew member Stephen (Harold Perrineau) and Charles. They travel via seaplane and at one point Charles turns his head towards Robert and asks, “So how are you going to kill me?” Before Robert can reply a flock of geese crash into the plane’s front rotor and windshield, and the plane crashes into a body of water. Charles, Robert, and Stephen survive the crash and immediately get to work lighting a bonfire. From that moment on the film turns into a story of survival.
Charles, having read, possibly, millions of books opens up his vault of knowledge and uses some of it to start a fire. He also concocts a compass by rubbing the tip of a paper clip onto his silk shirt sleeve and placing it on a floating leaf. The trio embarks on a journey through Alaskan wilderness but they eventually wind up going in a circle. It’s not as comical as it should be because none of them have camped before, let alone traversed through the wilderness. And just when you think the going has gotten tough- no food, drastic weather changes- a bear attacks them.
The Edge was written by David Mamet, who’s skillfully assisted the audience in forgetting that behind the men’s fear for the lives, there still lurks an unspoken animosity between Charles and Robert. Charles wasn’t wrong in assuming that Robert wants to kill him and steal his riches and his wife, whom he’d been having an affair with for quite some time; however, the emergence of the wilderness surival aspect of the film had masked that concept and left it to be rediscovered in the film’s third act. It’s a very skillful technique that’s well executed by a master screenwriter.
Two crucial sequences bring us back down to earth, spaced evenly through the film: one is when Charles teaches the others that in the woods people die of shame; another is when Charles again asks Robert how he’s doing to kill him and Robert replies that he’s not going to kill him because he needs him to navigate their safe return back to the lake house. Then he calls him an [expletive] idiot. That’s Mamet for you in a nutshell. Yet if one pays close attention, one notices little hints that indicate that Robert is always trying to kill Charles after all. Crafty Mamet….
The performances in the film are fantastic. We saw what Alec Baldwin can deliver in a Mamet production with his pitch perfect delivery in Glengarry Glen Ross (1992). Now we get to see what Sir Anthony can do, not that I was skeptical of his talents in any way. Baldwin and Hopkins deliver sharp performances with realism and not theatrics and are never afraid to overamp their feelings. Whenever they yell at each other or simply stare one another down, we feel their animosity through the actors’ terrific performances and can always see in their eyes that they’re afraid of death.
I’ve watched The Edge two or three times since its initial release and it grows more interesting with each viewing. Mamet’s dialogue isn’t as obvious as it usually is in his dramas but it’s still present here and can be noticed by true Mamet fans. This is still a “Mamet product” but was designed as a more Hollywood-type production.
The film was shot entirely in British Colombia, Canada and it kind of shows. But that’s a good thing because most of these types of films (The Grey (2012) included) are shot in BC. The mountains ranges and forests are immense, allowing virtually anyone to place a camera on a tripod or a dolly track and create beautiful art. The Edge is skillfully shot utilizing standard shot compositions. Director Lee Tamahori utilizes tons of “money shots” of the surroundings, always reminding us where the characters are, what their situation is, and just how utterly beautiful nature can be.
I would recommend The Edge to Mamet fans and non-Mamet fans. Here is a taut, exciting, and often funny film with ingenious dialogue and utterly fantastic performances by Hopkins and Baldwin. Watch it, enjoy it, and ponder how Mamet can write this film’s script and also classics such as House of Games (1987), Glengarry Glen Ross, and Spartan (2004). He definitely has great range.
New releases this week: Haywire, Joyful Noise, New Year’s Eve, W.E.