Edge, The (United States, 1997)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

As "survival in the wilderness" films go, The Edge is a strange example. Leaving the theater, I didn't quite know what to make of it. In fact, I'll even admit to enjoying it on a certain level. I laughed frequently, but the problem is that I'm not sure the director intended there to be as much humor in his film as I uncovered. It's also worth noting that from time-to-time, the movie manages to achieve a certain level of tension, although it's far from the "white knuckle" variety. Overall, however, the picture really didn't work for me, except as an example of big-budget campiness.

The problem, at least from my perspective, is easily identified. Screenwriter David Mamet clearly had something different in mind than director Lee Tamahori. Mamet wrote what could easily have been developed into a delicious satire. He throws everything into the mix, including all the cliches he can dredge up from past entries to the genre. The dialogue also has the potential to be richly ironic. Actors Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin seem to understand exactly what Mamet was aiming for -- they're performances are at just the right pitch for this material: slick and larger-than-life, yet never quite at the scenery-chewing level. Unfortunately, Tamahori is on an entirely different page. His approach is to treat this material as if it's a straightforward adventure, which has the unfortunate result of turning The Edge into the kind of movie that Mamet was apparently trying to parody.

The Edge opens by introducing us to Charles Morse (Anthony Hopkins), one of the richest and smartest men in the world. He's busy reading a book entitled Lost in the Woods, so everyone in the audience immediately knows where the film is headed. He has accompanied his beautiful fashion model wife (Elle Macpherson) and her photographer, Robert Green (Alec Baldwin), on a shoot to the Alaskan wilderness. However, while Charles and Robert are searching for a native hunter to appear in some of the photos, the small plane carrying them crashes. With hopes of an immediate rescue looking increasingly unlikely, Charles and Robert must battle the wilderness (including a particularly aggressive and persistent bear) and their mounting distrust of each other in order to survive.

Frankly, even though The Edge is almost always dumb, it's also often fun. And, to give the film it's due, it's never boring. On those rare occasions when the plot goes for character development, the performances of Hopkins and Baldwin carry it through. The cinematography is frequently breathtaking and Jerry Goldsmith's score has enough majesty to highlight the impressive vistas. The film includes several memorable moments -- the plane crash makes nice use of special effects, the climactic battle with the Bart the bear is suitably over-the-top, and there's an attempt to create the next "Show me the money!" line (the refrain being "What one man can do, another can do!"). Also, The Edge can boast what is, hands down, the best anti-lawyer line of the year. However, just like creamy icing can't save a half-baked cake, these positive elements can't hide the fact that The Edge is a bad movie.

Director Tamahori appears to be slipping and sliding his way into oblivion. After a fine debut with Once Were Warriors, he helmed the troubled Mulholland Falls. The Edge represents another step in the wrong direction. In talking about the film, Tamahori speaks energetically about things like survival and primal instincts being at The Edge's core, but, while those things are undeniably present, they're presented as cliches. This is the kind of silly stuff that works better when the protagonists are children (the recent Wild America leaps to mind). Mamet is too seasoned not to have recognized this, but the same cannot be said of Tamahori. He's like someone who hears the joke, but doesn't get the punch line. And, as a result, The Edge comes across as a parody/adventure without a clear sense of identity.

Edge, The (United States, 1997)

Director: Lee Tamahori
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Alec Baldwin, Elle Macpherson, L.Q. Jones, Harold Perrineau
Screenplay: David Mamet
Cinematography: Donald M. McAlpine
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
U.S. Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Run Time: 1:57
U.S. Release Date: 1997-09-26
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1