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The Edge

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Edge

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Alec Baldwin
Director: Lee Tamahori
Rated: R
RunTime: 117 Minutes
Release Date: September 1997
Genres: Action, Drama, Suspense

*Also starring: Elle MacPherson, L.Q. Jones, Kathleen Wilhoite, Harold Perrineau Jr., David Lindstedt

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

It's no fun being a billionaire. You'll have lots of friends and a gorgeous wife, but do they really like you? You can't blame the fabulously rich Charles Morse (Anthony Hopkins) for seeming paranoid. He thinks everyone is out to use him; he's suspicious at all times of the behavior of his much younger wife; he decides to take a trip to Alaska with his friend Robert Green (Alec Baldwin) to see how she, Mickey (Elle Macpherson), acts in his presence.

If you came into "The Edge" a few minutes late, you might swear you're seeing a sequel to "The Game." Rich man, complacent, intellectual, competent, has a hotshot lawyer, a trophy wife, a pilot and then some to take care of his needs. Suddenly thrust into a life-threatening predicament, he must use his wits and his animal instincts to avoid death at the hands of both man and beast. If he survives, he'll have changed his life. In the midst of peril, Charles indeed says, "I never knew anyone who changed their life. I'm going to change my life."

Aware that conflict is essential to drama, writer David Mamet and director Lee Tamahori underscore all three models of strife: man against man, man against nature, man against himself--pitting a rich bookworm against a Kodiak bear (Bart) described as a "man-killing machine"; against his traveling companion Bob, who turns out to be other than he seems; and against his own reserve and bookishness. Originally entitled "The Bookworm," the action-adventure movie features the writing of David Mamet, whose dialogue, however appropriate, is not his usual edgy stuff. In fact there is only one point in the film that you'll recognize his signature exchange: when a startled Bob looks at Charles and says, "Why did you say 'how will you kill me'...why did you say that?"

You'll find none of the sharp exchanges familiar to theater fans of Mamet's "Oleanna" or "Sexual Perversity in Chicago" or "American Buffalo" Movies, however, are a visual medium, and the lack of quirky talk is compensated for by cinematographer Donald M. McAlpine's wide-lens, alpine shots of the Canadian province of Alberta (which stands in for Alaska) and by Neil Travis's tense editing, the story unfolding to Jerry Goldsmith's unobtrusive, appropriate soundtrack.

"The Edge" opens on the Alaskan frontier as a private plane carrying Charles, his supermodel wife Mickey, Mickey's photographer Bob, the photographer's assistant Stephen (Harold Perrineau) pulls up to the rugged cabin owned by the scarred and leathered Styles (L.Q. Jones). The team are on a mission to scout out some awesome locations for shots of Mickey in a variety of outfits. Bob insists on taking a short flight to the cabin of an Indian, who, he explains, would make a perfect prototype for some photos. The aircraft is hit by a flocks of big birds, making a crash landing in the remote wilderness, an area unlikely to be discovered by any rescue party. The men must live by their wits, facing starvation and, more imminently, a series of attacks by a Kodiak bear which prefers human meat to fish. A scene involving the men running from the 1400-pound animal is among the scariest of its kind ever shown on the screen, a feat made possible by the superb training of Bart the bear by Doug Seus and, where necessary, the use of an animatronic bear created by Animated Engineering. The quieter moments are made humorous by Charles's pithy remarks about surviving in the wilderness, a skill he derives purely from the extraordinary number of books he has read and not from actual experience. "The inside of a banana peel will shine your shoes," he advises during more peaceful moments, and when a fire is needed and matches are scarce, he counsels, "You can make a fire from ice" (by carving a block into a lens and focusing the sun's rays). He is not always successful: at one point he makes a compass by magnetizing a needle which he carries around with him and placing it on a leaf in the water. Most of all, he suggests, the principal reason people who are lost will die is from shame--from the feeling that "I got myself into this mess and deserve what happens."

"The Edge" is really two films in one: the first part dealing with their meetings with a huge, determined bear; the second with a cat-and-mouse game between Bob and Charles--the latter firmly believing that his "pal" is out to kill him for his wife and perhaps for his money. "Do you think it's pleasant to be rich?" he asks rhetorically, having experienced courtesy, friendliness and enthusiasm from others in his life who, it later turns out, were interested in him only for his assets.

Both halves of "The Edge" are gripping, featuring the duo of opposites, Bob and Charles, playing their macabre games with each other, first cooperating and then scheming. The picture might have been ideal for an audience of young as well as old, but has an "R" rating because of strong language. As it stands, the movie is thoroughly mainstream, with smashing scenery, head-on conflicts, and just the right measure of comic colloquy.

Copyright 1997 Harvey Karten

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