It has been eight long years since Mel Gibson headlined a feature film ("Signs" in 2002). In the interim, Gibson has been surrounded more by controversy than co-stars. His directorial effort on "The Passion of the Christ" revealed an almost unsettling religious fervor, while an offscreen roadside rant riddled with four-letter words (and anti-Semitic overtones) all but devastated his reputation.
Gibson the man still has some work to do. Gibson the actor, however, is back and better than ever.
His latest film is a gripping thriller reminiscent of Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning "The Departed," and Gibson serves up a ferocious performance. As Boston detective Thomas Craven -- a determined dad seeking vengeance for the murder of his only child -- Gibson is simultaneously vulnerable and relentless. His emotionally driven portrayal helps steer viewers past the white-water ripples of a convoluted plot.
The violent shooting death of Craven's 24-year-old daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic of "Drag Me to Hell") ignites the story. Resolute and eager for answers, Craven begins questioning those who knew her best, often using brutal techniques to withdraw the truth.
Craven's prodding eventually leads to Emma's clandestine work at a weapons-manufacturing corporation and its seedy president, Jack Bennett (Danny Huston of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine"). As Craven gets closer to discovering the real reason behind Emma's death, he develops a surprising mutual respect with British-born "problem solver" Darius Jedburgh (Ray Winstone of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull") while poisonous adversaries and government conspiracies surround him.
Director Martin Campbell ("Casino Royale") does an excellent job underscoring the relationship between Craven and his daughter. After her death, Craven continues to hear whispers of his daughter's voice and see fleeting visions of her as a child. One fantastic scene has Craven shaving, his precocious daughter using a comb to shave beside him, giggling joyously. The father-daughter moments -- despite being dreamlike memories -- are genuine and heartfelt.
But the complicated storyline becomes hard to follow, as is often the case when shadowy government agents and unrealistic double-crosses surface. Winstone's role is also never fully explored, making his character more confusing than compelling, though the charismatic actor still brings a tough-guy swagger to the film.
Tense, visceral and well-directed, Gibson's return to the big screen will take you right to the edge.