Film and TV

Ursa Minor

Okay. Drop a billionaire know-it-all, a cocky fashion photographer and a slavering Kodiak bear into the Alaskan wilderness and tell 'em to fight it out. The smart money would be on the bear (he knows the territory), but because the perpetrators of The Edge profess to be more interested in human behavior than where Mother Nature's next meal is coming from, the wise player probably has to back one of the two-legged contestants.

Pity. With his glorious brown coat, impressive incisors and unequivocal views on life and lunch, the bear proves more worthy of our attention than either the rich guy (who knows all about Cree myths and how to refract the sun's rays through ice to start a fire) or the camera guy (who doesn't know much of anything, except that he's still hot for the rich guy's trophy wife). But this is a David Mamet movie, after all, and David Mamet remains obsessed with male combat. So while they're tentatively bonding and struggling to survive danger, hunger, cold and despair after their seaplane goes down in a remote icy lake, our surviving protagonists, Charles and Bob, also spend a lot of time playing games with each other's minds, pushing each other, trying to prove just who the dominant force is here--bears excluded.

America's favorite thinking playwright has gone native--dumping the bickering, low-rent thieves of American Buffalo or the dog-eat-dog real estate scammers from Glengarry Glen Ross into the forest primeval to have at it again. One of the more unfortunate results is that seventy or so minutes into the movie, we must behold Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin, ruggedly grizzled now, wandering down a mountainside in beautifully tailored bearskins, carrying what look like long biblical staffs. At this sight, the big audience at the screening I attended burst out laughing, and not because there was any mystery in what they were watching. In order to find themselves, our guys must recall the ancient beast deep inside. As if we didn't know.

Meantime, neither Mamet, nor Hopkins, nor Baldwin, nor director Lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors) acknowledges the huge debts The Edge owes to such literary antecedents as Faulkner's The Bear, Melville's Moby Dick or the collected works of Jack London. Why bother? No one holds a monopoly on the battle with nature, bloody in fang and claw, so let's just get out there and roast some squirrel, okay?

For the exemplary Oscar winner Hopkins, who in recent years has portrayed a cannibalistic serial killer, self-absorbed Pablo Picasso and a repressed butler who cannot learn to love, playing the aging capitalist Charles Morse here is not that much of a departure. Like Hannibal Lecter, Morse is jam-packed with knowledge--anthropological, philosophical, survivalist--although he acknowledges that, until now, it's been largely theoretical. Like Picasso, Charles also gets to bed down the beauty. In this case it's Elle Macpherson, the leggy fashion model who's pranced ahead into what passes for an acting career. As the new Mrs. Morse, Macpherson's a woman who's clearly been around the block (including an obvious fling with the resentful photographer, Bob Green) but has now seized the main chance with a guy who has his own airplane. Hey. Is it possible that Macpherson's character's name, "Mickey Morse," is another of the ever clever Mr. Mamet's wry verbal jokes? All together now: M-I-C-K-E-Y... Is Mickey the prize not worth having once the testosterone wars are concluded?

By the end of this laborious, frequently ludicrous (but always scenic) vacation in the woods, it's hard to care. In his infinite jest, Mamet has presumed to elevate the action/ adventure genre with some real live intellectual ideas (shame is what kills those lost in the wilderness, Charles allows), just as he inflated the simple beauties of con artistry with all sorts of decorative epistemology in House of Games.

In short, one killer bear is not nearly enough. Set loose a pack of these guys, and maybe the playwright with the big, botched ideas won't get back from the lake, either.

The Edge.
Screenplay by David Mamet. Directed by Lee Tamahori. With Anthony Hopkins, Alec Baldwin and Elle Macpherson.

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Bill Gallo
Contact: Bill Gallo