Part National Geographic survival special, part Grizzly Adams/psycho killer/bear-on-the-loose story (Jaws in the wood?) and part reluctant White Men Can’t Hunt buddy movie, The Edge throws itself fully into the testosterone-soaked, Boy’s Own action/adventure genre: witness man against man, man against nature, and man against bear.
But, this is an action/adventure with a twist. All the usual suspects – the stunts, crashes, a bodycount, swearing, being chased by something big and nasty – are here, but they function alongside a more unusual third theme: one man’s rites-of-passage drama.
It starts promisingly. Macpherson is looking good... no, make that awesome, in a loincloth and with feathers in her hair for a freezing outside photo-shoot, while grizzled local veteran LQ Jones tells the men, when they fly in a small, single-engined aircraft, to watch out for flocks of birds. Then, whaddaya know, Baldwin, Hopkins and two other expendables spectacularly crash into the forests after hitting, wait for it, a flock of birds in mid-air. No, really. What the stranded men then have to do is as follows:
1) They have to keep warm, eat, find help, reach safety or hope to be spotted by roving helicopters.
2) They must not be eaten by a 1,400lb rampaging bear.
3) They must watch sadly as the other not-at-all-crucial to-the-plot survivor is predictably eaten by same said beast.
4) But most importantly, they must both somehow connect with each other, even though the perceived rightful ownership of Macpherson has dramatically come between them – Hopkins is married to her, but Baldwin believes that he should be married to her. Then repeat this idea for 90 minutes.
But here’s the not inconsiderable rub. Would two men, literally on the verge of either freezing or starving to death, or being eaten alive by a bear at any moment, genuinely spend their time fretting over who’s sleeping with who? I think not. Net result: the film’s realism vanishes in an instant.
The Edge’s second flaw is that it knows that it is an action/adventure/drama, and so it succeeds remarkably to a point. But crucially it doesn’t quite know which is more important to the film as a whole – the action, the outdoor adventure, or the drama. Thus it goes and gives you all three elements in equal measure. The result is that while the action/adventure begs for more, more, more, the dramatic heart of The Edge is an emotional human sub-plot, with an emptiness as vast as the cavernous panorama that surrounds it. And, the usually reliable David Mamet script is less insightful and knowing of its characters than it ought to be. Like, doh: Hopkins is amazed to realise that the gorgeous, betrothed Macpherson has been having an affair with Baldwin.
Cue curiously passionless dialogue, little real empathy for either protagonist and almost negligible character development as Baldwin jealously goes off the rails and Hopkins slowly (though you might not notice from his performance, portraying a remote, introverted bookworm) begins to discover his true nature.
However, there’s much to love about The Edge. The stunning, rugged and hugely breathtaking widescreen scenery throughout (and boy, they never let anybody forget it) should do for the Alaskan tourist industry what Lawrence Of Arabia did for the desert, although they filmed it in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, Canada. Better still, the dramatic, sweeping, crescendo-laden, violin-soaked score gives the film a heavyweight grandiloquence befitting its location, while Hopkins’ performance, in which he looks worried, angry, cold and spouts the immortal phrase, “Let’s get the motherfucker”, is as shockingly unexpected as it is classic. But most of all, the brilliantly choreographed, thrilling, pulse-pounding, heart-in-the-mouth bear fight sequences are a revelation. Grrr and grrrr.
For its obvious flaws, The Edge is nothing less than a damn entertaining thriller. This is a brave and worthy entry to the action/adventure canon that's visually astonishing and has some genuine white-knuckle moments.