After an eight year absence from starring in a major Hollywood production, actor/director Mel Gibson finally returns to the spotlight with the action thriller, “Edge of Darkness”. During his sabbatical, Mel certainly kept himself busy by directing at least one blockbuster epic, “The Passion of the Christ”, but sometime after that a few personal issues began to cause him some rather public embarrassments. So, is Mel’s return to acting a triumphant one for a man that used to be one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars, or a botched attempt to repair and reinvigorate an ailing career?

“Edge of Darkness” is the story of Boston detective Thomas Craven (Mel Gibson) whose life is shattered when a shotgun blast takes his daughter’s life right in front of his very eyes. Suspecting the shot was intended for him as a result of some former case he had worked on, Craven scours for clues as to who could have committed such a heinous act. Yet, the further he digs into the murder, the more surprising his discoveries become as a twisted web of intrigue, money and political power begins to unwind and not everything is what it seemed.

The film, based on a six episode 1985 BBC mini-series of the same name, features a story written by screenwriters William Monahan (“The Departed”) and Andrew Bovell (“Lantana”). The story’s plot is rife with intensity and drama as Thomas Craven must attempt to uncover the mystery of who is responsible for this tragedy, all the while dealing with such a profound loss. As if that weren’t enough the writers toss into the mix a hefty dosage of political intrigue, conspiracies, and a deadly game of cat-and-mouse. It’s not hard to imagine that a possible mantra for the writers when developing the story was, “No rest for the weary.”

There are some writers, and even directors, that would have their hands full just dealing with the two main plot threads alone. Truth be told, those two plots would have made for an incredibly intriguing, dramatic movie on their own. Yet, with the deftly woven layers and intricate sub-plots included within the story, the film packs an even greater punch and leaves you with a much more powerful movie experience.

With so much happening in a single story, we’ve seen time and again where a movie simply crumbles beneath its own weight. While the writers did their part in creating an elaborate, yet cohesive mixture of plotlines, director Martin Campbell (“Casino Royale”) still had to guide the movie into becoming a reality. Being no stranger to action movies, Martin Campbell was an ideal choice for director. Not to mention he was already familiar to some extent with the material having directed all six of the episodes that comprised the BBC mini-series all those years ago. On top of all that, this is also the man that reinvigorated the James Bond franchise a couple of years back, so who better to bring Mel Gibson back to the big screen?

Martin’s ability to mix hard-hitting, gritty action sequences into this movie that never overshadow the intense drama unfolding is one of the reasons he has become (in my opinion) one of the best action directors around. So many action thrillers lose sight of the story as the driving force and allow the action to propel the film forward, especially during its final moments (case in point, Tony Scott’s overblown “Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” remake). Martin’s movies typically don’t suffer from this shortcoming; instead, he allows the story to unfold, and then inserts action into the proceedings. You see, the key is to not forget the action scenes, but to include them in a way that doesn’t feel unnatural to the story (take note Tony Scott, you used to know how to do this). Anyways, I digress.

Headlining the cast, as I already stated, is none other than Mel Gibson (“Braveheart”). An actor that despite his absence in front of the camera, still remains one of the most talented stars in Hollywood (as showcased in this film). After being away from the spotlight for so long, this type of movie was the perfect way for Mel to make his return. After all, not too many actors do action thrillers/revenge movies as well as Mel (see “Ransom” for a prime example). As Thomas Craven, Mel goes through a wide range of feelings and emotions from incredible sadness and denial to bewilderment, from anger to an all-consuming thirst for revenge against those responsible. All the while, Mel keeps Thomas grounded, never once over-selling the character’s heartache or rage; a choice that was key to keeping him completely believable and relatable to the audience.

At the heart of the conspiracy within the movie is actor Danny Huston (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine”) who appears so completely earnest and sincere one second, yet at a moments notice shows himself to be a twisted, morally compromised individual who would do anything to protect his interests. I’ve seen several movies that Danny has appeared in, and every time he always delivers a great performance. Out of all the roles I’ve seen him play, he seems to excel even more when playing the antagonist and this one is no exception. His performance in this film is so rich that he easily stands toe-to-toe with Mel’s Thomas Craven, thus making their scenes together all the more intense and enjoyable to watch.

Lastly, is actor Ray Winstone (“The Departed”) as a shadowy government operative, whose job is to prevent people from discovering the truth in sensitive matters. Sadly his character only pops up every once in a while; even so, Ray makes the most out of every single moment, skillfully creating such a complex and layered portrayal. His scenes opposite Mel are quite simply the best in the film, and their verbal sparring is so rich with intensity, veiled threats, and above all, respect that you’re almost sorry when they end. While Ray’s not one of the most well-known actors in Hollywood, he is one that you can always rely upon to deliver a solid performance no matter the size of the role.

To sum up, “Edge of Darkness” features a terrific screenplay, top-notch performances, and incredibly hard-hitting and gritty action scenes, making it a thriller that will grab hold and not let go until the very end.

“Edge of Darkness” is rated R for violence and language.