MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Survival Action-Thriller/ Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Alec Baldwin, Harold Perrineau, Elle Macpherson, L. Q. Jones, Kathleen Wilhoite, David Lindstedt, Mark Kiely, Eli Gabay, Larry Musser, Gordon Tootoosis, Kelsa Kinsly, and Bart the Bear/Runtime: 117 minutes
I think it can safely be said that after penning so many projects for both the stage as well as the silver screen that deal with men trying their absolute best to survive in combat against both the world around them as well as each other that it was perhaps all but inevitable that iconic scribe David Mamet would one day just give in and decide to set one of these tales in the woods. Yet whereas before this one all of Mamet’s characters were urban predators of some type be they economic, racial, con men, or even ones that were created out of a false accusation, the slice of cinematic pie I am reviewing today, 1997’s The Edge is quite distinct in that respect. That’s because with this slice of cinematic pie whilst yes we do get the typical male personalities we have come to expect from something done by David Mamet, this one decides to take a pair of those distinct personality types and then promptly drop kick them in the behind smack dab in the wilds of Alaska where they must fight the elements, a blood-thirsty bear, and to a fairly equal degree, their own personal demons and each other if they wish to make it back in one piece. Suffice it to say it is that intriguing and riveting concept along with a pair of dynamite performances from talented screen icons Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin respectively that take what could easily have been a run of the mill survival tale and transform it into something that is a truly riveting watch to say nothing of one of the late 90s more underrated and criminally underseen gems.
The plot is as follows: A survival tale that deals just as much about a conflict between man vs. nature as it does about a potential conflict between 2 men, The Edge introduces us to a pair of men who are as distinct as distinct can be. They are a calm as a cucumber yet wealthy beyond all imagining man by the name of Charles Morse and a pompous city boy by the name of Bob Green respectively. We quickly learn that the 2 men are on their way up to Alaska since Bob is a fashion photographer of some skill and renown and who has currently been hired to do a photo shoot there with Charles’ beautiful yet significantly younger wife and Charles is along for the ride celebrating his birthday. Yet as amicable as they seem to be on the surface with each other, you can also tell there is a hidden competition of sorts being played out between the two. That’s because Charles has always suspected that his wife has been having her fair share of night shoots (if you get my drift) with Bob whilst Bob has always felt himself outmatched by Charles’ bank account, prestige, and vast intellect. Suffice it to say that the worst thing that could happen to these men would be if they were placed in a situation where to survive meant working together even in the face of their immense psychological mistrust of each other. Unfortunately this is the situation that Lady Fate just so happens to have in store for this pair of “fine gentlemen”. A situation that incidentally is able to occur when, whilst on their way to locate a Native American that Bob would like to make part of the shoot, their plane smacks head on into some geese and horrifically crash lands in a wrecked heap of twisted metal and broken glass into the lake. From there we see that although the pilot is dead, our heroes plus Bob’s closest aide Stephen are able to get out of the downed aircraft banged up a little bit, but otherwise in one piece. Yet whilst taking stock of their situation they find things becoming complicated by a pair of distinct yet equally as deadly elements. One is that there just so happens to be a brutal and ruthless grizzly bear in their midst that proceeds to start stalking them while they are trying to make their way back to society. The other is the belief held by good ol’ Charles that Bob is plotting to kill him so he can have Charles’ beautiful wife all to himself. Suffice it to say that one of these threats is most assuredly genuine, but as to whether the other one is or not that I will leave you to discover for yourself…..
Now if you think about it this slice of cinematic pie is one that operates at a pair of distinct levels. Yet if you are an audience member who is among the majority who wants to look at this film on the most direct level possible then I can assure you that you, the viewer will find this to be a truly riveting adventure saga to say nothing of a thrilling narrative about a pair of men being given a sudden surprise exam by nature and in the process of trying to survive manage to reveal the kind of men that they really are and become better men for it….well at least I could say the latter is definitely true for at least one of the men. That’s because we learn that wealthy bookworm Charles has an absolutely astounding array of knowledge in regards to wilderness survival. However, we also learn that his experience in applying said knowledge is by and large mostly of the armchair variety. Yet when disaster strikes in this slice of cinematic pie we are able to witness and see that Charles with astonishing swiftness has little to no difficulty in taking what he has learned and making it work in a real world setting from making a compass out of a paper clip and a leaf to trying to make a trap to catch a squirrel so he and the others don’t starve to death even as Bob spends his time yelling, panicking, and just being more of hindrance than an asset. We also see that as their journey goes along, our duo is seemingly consistently terrorized by a huge and menacing bear that the film implies is just as much a literal representation for how uncaring and cruel the world can be as much as an actual terrifying animal (I mean Yogi Bear or Baloo this animal is most certainly not). Yet, as portrayed by iconic animal actor Bart the Bear, this bear also feels like a personification of our main characters’ largely unsaid the fears and/or insecurities. Fears and/or insecurities that take the forms of Charles feeling like if he takes this clawed monster down he will finally have done something genuine in life while Bob just sees this beast as something that terrifyingly is preventing him from getting out of this mess alive let alone in one piece.
However even before, during, and after their battles with this vicious and brutal force of nature, we also see that this slice of cinematic pie is also in many aspects a riveting poker match between the pair of men as well courtesy of Charles trying to force Bob’s hand and cough up whatever it is he thinks Bob is hiding whilst doing everything he can to just survive and Bob continuously trying to convince Charles his motives are pure and that there really is nothing to his suspicions in regards to anything that may or may not be going on with him and Charles’ wife let alone him wanting to kill Charles while stranded out there in the woods together. Suffice it to say that the men and their conflict with the bear is one that has way more in terms of thrills, but that’s only because the conflict between the men themselves is sadly nowhere near as ingeniously constructed or as impactful as it ought to be by film’s end though not for lack of effort. Be that as it may be, there can be no denying that Mamet and film helmer Lee Tamahori do manage to do a brilliant job not just of giving us a truly incredibly filmed movie, but also for throwing for a loop quite a few of the things that you might expect to occur in a film like this. As a result, The Edge is a quite brilliant action thriller as opposed to a stuffy overcooked dramatic film with action components thrown in for good measure. Indeed the utilization of what is meant to be extremely obvious foreshadowing is insidiously sneaky since there are moments that play out like you think they will and then there are moments where they unexpectedly do not. Also this film, despite being an action-thriller, also is the lucky recipient of a subtle stream of dark comedy which runs pretty much through the entirety of the film. Suffice it to say then that while a few ingredients behind the camera are slightly undercooked, the film thankfully doesn’t fall apart, but that’s also because of how well-done the rest of the film turns out to be.
Now even though yes I should point out that there are other cast members in this and yes they all do a fine job with their respective parts particularly by the aforementioned Bart the Bear who is a truly terrifying force of nature to behold in his final film role, this slice of cinematic pie is by and large a 2 person affair. Suffice it to say then that Anthony Hopkins (no surprise really) and Alec Baldwin both do a terrific job at making up the 2 people at the heart of this story. Indeed as Charles, Hopkins manages to bring just the right degrees of quiet civility and dignity whilst also proving, in a way that only Anthony Hopkins can be, riveting to watch and follow throughout this story. Indeed this is a story, besides everything else, about a wealthy armchair survival expert finally getting an unexpected chance to put into practice everything he has learned whilst also confronting both nature at her most extreme in the form of the elements as well as a bloodthirsty bear, but also the very real and terrifying possibility that not only is the man who he has to reluctantly work with in order to survive might just be trying to bump him off, but that the wife he loves more than anything might just be cheating on him with said man. Suffice it to say then that Hopkins manages to bring this character to life in such a wonderful way that I am now convinced that if I am ever stuck in the woods I hope it’s with Anthony Hopkins because he sold me in this part from beginning to end. Now I know that a lot of people have taken issue with Alec Baldwin in the role of Bob Green and yes, upon learning Bill Pullman was under consideration, I do think Pullman would’ve been great in the part as well. With that being said, I do happen to also like what Baldwin brings to this film (beard incident notwithstanding, but that’s a whole story you can look up on your own. Suffice it to say things got quite hairy on this movie….literally). Indeed whilst Baldwin brings not only a wonderfully pompous and arrogant yet also surprisingly human at times attitude to the role, he also brings a commendably enigmatic nature as well. This is necessary because whilst this character is supposed to be all pomp and bluster until finding himself completely out of his element in the woods, he also has to be quite enigmatic in certain aspects as well until such a time comes for those layers to be peeled away. Suffice it to say it really is terrific work from a performer who has made his fair share of hits, misses, and Thomas the Tank Engine-size disasters, but who is still one heck of an actor when working with the right material.
All in all there may be a few flaws here and there in this cinematic wilderness, but overall the slice of cinematic pie that is The Edge is a true underrated gem. Indeed this is a top-notch mix of thrilling wilderness action alongside trademark uber-masculine dialogue from David Mamet that, together with fairly good work behind the camera and wonderful work from our 2 lead actors (and especially one visceral and terrifying furry co-star) in front of the camera, makes for a rip-roaring and quite thrilling survival yarn that I promise you is one that, should you be able to find it on DVD/Blu-Ray or on a streaming service, is definitely worth a watch. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Edge “97” a solid 3.5 out of 5.