The Edge


Anthony Hopkins is scary good in this movie.  He’s always very good, but for some reason he’s scary good in this.

One of the important things he does is make Mamet’s trademark rhythms feel utterly natural and in character.

Alec Baldwin, already with a little Mamet under his belt at this point, is also good, but takes a little while to come into focus for some reason, for me anyway.  Maybe because he has to make the transition from Take Charge Fashion Photographer to Scared Airplane Crash Survivor to Flailing Helpless Guy to Cold-Blooded Killer All Along to Sobbing Helpless Guy to Dying Guy, and needs to find a common thread through all that.

This is one of my favorite Mamet scripts, even though it’s a movie about a couple of guys and a bear.

Lee Tamahori’s direction is elegant and unfussy.  The dramatic scenes are understated and natural, the action scenes are nerve-wracking and upsetting.

The bear performs admirably and the stunt work is terrific.  Either that or those are real movie stars fighting with a bear and falling down mountains and treading carefully across a log over a high waterfall.

Harold Perrineau holds up well under the burden of playing the role of “non-star who gets eaten by a bear.”

The roles in general are written with great humanity and nuance. 

I dig nuance.  Movies are full of cliches, this one included, they are in fact smoothly efficient vehicles for cliches, and in fact they thrive on cliche and depend for their survival on cliche.  So nuance and detail become important in selling these stories.

An unusual 4-act structure for a 2-hour film.  Act 1 is, “Let’s have an adventure, even though there are definite tensions between the principles.”  Act 2 is “Well, maybe having an adventure wasn’t such a good idea.”  Act 3 is “Oh holy fucking shit, there’s fucking BEAR WHO WANTS TO EAT US.”  Act 4 is “How about that, we killed the bear.  Oh shit, these tensions between us just got worse.”  And you could even split Act 4 into two distinct sections, each about 15 pages long, one being “Aha!  Forgot all about this, did you?” and “Well, that was a bad idea too.  Shall we go home now?”

And then, 97 minutes into the movie, comes the Wind.

Back in 1996 or so, there was a Star Wars video game called Dark Forces.  There was a level to the game that took place on the ice planet of Hoth.  Hoth was cold and windy, as ice planets tend to be, and there was a recording of Wind that played, over and over, throughout the entire level.  Since I’m a really crappy player, I spent many, many days trying to get the fuck off of the ice planet of Hoth, and got to know that Wind very, very well.

Now I can barely watch a movie with an outdoor scene, because they keep using that same Wind.  Most recently it was featured in the opening minutes of Sydney Pollack’s The Interpreter to emphasize the desolate quality of a hot, dusty African road.  Of course, for me it will always evoke the freezing cold and sheer ice cliffs of Hoth, so that scene just didn’t work for me.  In The Edge, at least, it’s set among the majestic peaks of what I’m guessing is the Canadian Rockies, so at least the “cold” part of it works.  But as soon as the Wind came on, I started looking for stormtroopers and Imperial droids.

There is a very funny account of the filming of The Edge in producer Art Linson’s book What Just Happened?
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6 Responses to “The Edge”
  1. eronanke says:

    I feel the same way about the noise of being submerged in water- it happens all the time with objects and people in movies, but since I played Echo: The Last Dolphin, I can’t listen to it without dying a little inside, worrying if that dolphin will ever find his family again!
    It’s the reason I didn’t see Poseidon.

  2. toliverchap says:

    Your example about “the wind” being a constant source of distraction almost on the level of parody plays well into the concept of cliche. I can have the same problem being a film student who both watches and makes movies I find that I see and associate all sorts of things in funny/unique ways. It sort of makes me think that if you’ve seen enough stuff then everything can be reduced to cliche and parody. Perhaps that is just ad hoc Postmoderism in pop-culture but I think understanding this can be used by storytellers to synthesize something that is a somewhat new tale to tell. I look forward to a movie you could write that borrows from the adventure/survival picture and features a Wompa like creature instead of a bear.

  3. greyaenigma says:

    I remember being surprised that this was a Mamet script after I’d seen it. I guess because both Hopkins and the bear did such a great job making their lines seem natural.

    This is really a movie about a bear. Just like Orca is really about someone who sees their family killed, then goes after those responsible. But less so.

  4. urbaniak says:

    That’s funny about recognizing the wind. A lot of older films, Westerns particularly, all use the same gunshots. They’re very recognizable. I also can recall the specific sounds of much of the canned laughter from the sitcoms I watched as a child from the late sixties to mid-seventies. Many years ago, when I was maybe 13, I saw some low-budget history show about Lincoln where they recreated his assassination, showing him enjoying “Our American Cousin” in Ford’s Theatre. They had shots of actors on stage performing the play and for the sound of the audience in the theatre they used the same canned laughter that one heard every week on “The Brady Bunch” and “Nanny and the Professor.” I distinctly remember thinking “Oh come on! That’s the ‘Brady Bunch’ laughter!” Even back then I was a total show biz nerd.

    • Todd says:

      I recognize the canned laughter and the gunshots too, but I didn’t sit in a dark room for days on end listening to just laughter and gunshots.

      Hell, in cheaper movies, a lot of times they use the same gunshots over and over in the same gunfight, whether the bullet is ricocheting off a wooden post or a rock.

      And then there are what I call the “button” effects. These include the sounds of hatches opening, high-tech machines whirring and humming and clicking, etc. There are dozens of these sounds used for video games, which you would think would be enough, but since there are hundreds or thousands of opportunities in a game like Doom or Half-Life to open hatches or turn on high-tech machines, one gets to know these sounds very well. Now, when I see a show like Venture Bros. or Justice League and someone opens a hatch or turns on a machine, barely a segment goes by where I am not reminded of some goddamn room I was stuck in trying to solve some goddamn “puzzle” in order to get to the next room and fight some monsters.

      But my favorite sound effects story involves “Mean Cat.” Some goddamn show or other I was doing required the sound of a Mean Cat, and I combed through my stack of Electra Sound Effect LPs to get just the right Mean Cat (it can be found, ironically enough, on Vol. 5, and the band is entitled “Mean Cat”). I did the show for however many weeks it ran and forgot all about it.

      Then, many years later, Paul Schraders movie The Comfort of Strangers came out. And I’m sitting there watching it, and it involves a couple who get into a heap of trouble while vacationing in Venice. And there’s a scene where Chris Walken is walking through some moonlit Venetian palazzo and a cat walks by. Now, I know that it’s a universal truth that any time a cat is shown onscreen, it must meow, even though nothing is happening to provoke a meow. Well, this cat darted across the screen and disappeared into a shadow, and what played on the soundtrack but that same damned 40-year-old “Mean Cat” recording from Elektra Sound Effects Vol. 5. And instead of enjoying the scene and thinking “How about that, a cat in a Venetian palazzo, who knew?” I thought “Hey, they used ‘Mean Cat’ from Vol. 5.”