(1997) Director: Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day, The Sopranos) | Writer: David Mamet (Heist, Glengarry Glen Ross)
David Mamet is a master screenwriter, a skill honed, almost by accident, during his salad days as an award-winning playwright. However, a writer’s acclaim tends to lead to the self-perpetuating belief that they may be as good a director as they are perceived to be a penman. Mamet’s directorial outings, as may be expected, are perfect and cold–the very picture of correct plotting and characterization–yet lacking that humanizing touch of schmalzy sentamentalism that director Lee Tamahori, less a master and more a workman, brings to his project. For Tamohori, as hacky as he may be, possesses something Mamet may never have the poor sense to wield: an awareness of directorial style.
The Edge is truly a sensationalist thriller, throwing its leads into unlikely naturalist situations dependent on the curiously bookish tendencies of its hero–a cold-seeming British-American dignitary with an inhuman amount of money to his name (Sir Anthony Hopkins)–while somehow allying its audience with said hero, a paranoid, cold man sympathetic thanks only to his victim status, given in the film’s opening when we notice his trophy wife acting in a too-friendly manner towards her opportunistic photographer (Alec Baldwin). When both are lost in the Alaskan wilderness, they find themselves relying upon unreliable naturalist tactics while fending off the individualistic desires of human nature. The question is, can human harmony persist in the face of the solitary need for survival?
A film of incredible intensity, The Edge dares to place the most unlikeable of protagonists–the aging, eclectic billionaire–in the midst of a two-man battle for life alongside a much better-looking and charismatic opponent in the form of a pre-30 Rock (read: skinny) Baldwin. It is also a film of ridiculous instances, where, mere moments after a revealing one-on-one conversation, a survivalist party is forced across a shoddy bridge made of of a fortuitously-placed tree, chased by an inconveniently man-hungry Kodiak Bear. However, the contrived moments do little to take away from the questions of human worth that pervade Hopkins, whose theoretical know-how belies an inexperience that endangers the entire party, friend and foe alike.
Hopkins is such a magnificent actor, and Baldwin so incendiary, that even the most trite scenes between them read as Shakespearean standoffs. They two are actors who could never be mistaken for those prone to camp or to pap; both are known for selecting roles demanding intensity or depth. But the parts they play here are so tailor-made that they seem almost parodic: Hopkins finds his emotional, fiery side in the face of the disbelief of his survivalist comrades (due to his academic nature); while Baldwin’s superficial braggadocio disguises an unfortunate wealth of insecurity and desperation. Their dialogue is a masterpiece of hidden cards and sheer, reckless endurance, thanks to Mamet’s genius wordplay.
But Tamahori finds a way to exploit those nearly trite characterizations with continual close-ups and deep focus, emphasizing the unaware expressions of human fear and determination where Mamet the director would have focused on language and the indicative styles of speech.
Man vs. Wild is the ultimate title card, a stripped-down battle between our kind and the instinctual denizens of the Earth we inhabit. The Edge preys upon the casual fears of the urbanized–distrust of the unknown, the horror of the unexplored wilderness–and puts forth the idea that the worst of humanity leaves the lowest common denominator, thirst for life itself, open to random chance and the acceptance of outside knowledge. The killer bear may be the ostensible bad guy, but after the protagonists overcome their dumb counterpart, the real antagonist behind The Edge is revealed to be the flighty selfishness innate in the human heart, and that can’t be attributed to untamed nature.
Hindsight Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars