' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: The Edge (1997)

Friday, June 16, 2023

Friday's Old Fashioned: The Edge (1997)

Sometimes you try and write the lede of a movie review and eventually just concede that Roger Ebert’s lede for the same movie can’t be topped. “’The Edge’ is like a wilderness adventure movie written by David Mamet,” observed Ebert 26 years ago, “which is not surprising, since it was written by Mamet.” Even if “The Edge” is about three men stranded in the Alaskan wilderness after their prop plane crashes and forced to fend off a bear, Mamet juices his screenplay with his patented mixture of precise dialogue, toxic masculinity, and psychological warfare, all of which is on display in the immediate moment before the plane goes down when billionaire Charles Morse (Anthony Hopkins), suspecting photographer Bob Green (Alec Baldwin) is having an affair with his fashion model wife Mickey (Elle MacPherson), comes right out and asks Bob, only half-cheekily, “How are you planning to kill me?” This means that even if the stranded men are being stalked by an apex predator, Bob is essentially stalking Charles too. It provides two layers of suspense. It also provides a window into how Mamet’s politics would evolve, or devolve, or perhaps merely exposes what his politics were all along. Though Charles himself cautions to “never feel sorry for a man who owns a plane,” by the end, Mamet feels so sorry for Charles that he has lionized him. 

Charles is not just rich, he’s filled to overflow with facts, constantly reading, and as he arrives at a remote lodge in Alaska with Mickey and Bob and the rest of Bob’s fashion team, he cracks a new book about what to do if you’re lost in the woods, one of many little nibbles of knowingness Mamet’s screenplay distributes throughout. Knowing nibbles like Charles’s wife’s name – Mickey. As in, Mickey Morse. If you’re going to reduce your one female character to a cartoon archetype, hey, literalize it, don’t criticize it. Knowing nibbles like Bob’s assistant Stephen who comes along with he and Charles on the fateful unscheduled flight. He’s played by Harold Perrineau…who is black…the one black character in the movie. Can you guess who dies first out there in the woods? At least Mamet gives him the best line in the movie, the one about how Bob likes his women like he likes his coffee. “Bitter and murky,” Stephen declares. Once Stephen is out of the way, it sets us on the road to Charles and Bob’s eventual confrontation over Mickey, though their duel with the bear (played with great theatrical relish by Bart the Bear) can’t help but upstage it, due in no small part to the performance of Hopkins.

He begins the movie by playing Charles as quiet, reserved, almost uncomfortable around other people, an indoorsman, truly, rather than outdoorsman, and when he wins a bet in the Alaskan lodge about what is displayed on the other side of a paddle, Hopkins invests the moment not with embarrassment but irritation, living out his later line about merely possessing so much “theoretical” knowledge. In that way, the whole movie becomes about practical application of Charles’s knowledge, if to the extreme. It is not easy to make the turn from timid billionaire to bear killer, but Hopkins succeeds, lighting a palpable fire in his eyes, transcending the locker room speechiness of the Mamet-like incantation of “What one man do, another can do” by coming across necessarily unhinged. Indeed, if Charles as conceived nears super heroic, never really wrong about anything and literally taming nature, coming close to a manifested version of a different Alec Baldwin character, Jack Donaghy of “30 Rock,” driving “a rental car into the Hudson to practice escaping,” Mamet’s wealthy survivalist’s fantasy, Hopkins saves him and transforms the quest of Charles into what he says it is, something unequivocal. 

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