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The Edge Is Wild

By Stacey Richter

OCTOBER 6, 1997:  SOME MOVIES HAVE the power to evoke a sense of place so strongly that when you walk out of the theater, you feel as though you've been somewhere else. The Edge, an adventure story set in the Alaskan wilderness, has such a vivid sense of the harsh, snowy beauty of the mountains that by the time it was half-way through, I was shivering. (It probably didn't hurt that the multiplex had the air conditioning cranked up).

The Edge was directed by Lee Tamahori (who also directed Once Were Warriors and Mulholland Falls) from a screenplay by David Mamet. Tamahori has a big, dramatic style and a penchant for dizzying close-ups and thrumming music; Mamet can be subtle, but for The Edge he's really plunged into his enormous macho side. The result is a sort of upscale Hemingway-esque story about affluent, pampered men testing their mettle. Luckily, The Edge has enough humor and gorgeous scenery to keep this from becoming tiresome. It's like a boy's adventure story starring a bunch of well-groomed grown ups. And a big bear.

Did I mention The Edge stars a big, scary bear? Let me just say the bear was wonderful. I don't know if animals qualify as actors, but this bear had such presence, flair, charisma and style that it was impossible not to be convinced that the humans involved were in fact right up next to something savage and fierce. I was a little concerned that Anthony Hopkins, who's tough but mature, might get hurt--in real life. We're talking true movie excitement.

Hopkins plays Charles Morse, a bookish billionaire with a stupendous memory and an ineffectual air. "I seem to retain all these facts," he says with sadness, "but using them is another matter." Well, we don't have to wait long for him to get a chance to flex his theoretical knowledge. He leaves his supermodel wife (Elle Macpherson) at a remote lodge to take a short jaunt by plane into the virgin woods with a fashion photographer and his groovy assistant.

Ah, yes: The proverbial three-hour tour. The plane crashes, the men are stranded, and the quest for survival begins. The Mamet screenplay (like nearly all Mamet screenplays) underscores how intensely meaningful men's lives become when they're removed from women. (The silliness of Charles' fashion-model wife is encoded in her name, Mickey Morse, just a letter away from the mouse whose very name is synonymous with lightweight.) In a Mamet-made world, the relationships between men also tend to become sexually charged; and true to form, the fashion photographer, Bob Green (Alec Baldwin), is presented as a potential rival for the affection of Charles' wife.

But the rivalry has to wait. The first order of business is for the guys to save themselves from the elements, starvation, and that darn bear. The bear is serious. An old guide has warned them what happens when one of these critters goes man-eater: "There's nothing he'd rather eat once he tastes the human flesh!" This certainly is not the most complex of plots. If you're a Mamet fan, you know he has a musician's ear for dialogue and a subtle sense of the pleasures and horrors of the masculine rite of passage. In his best work (Glengarry Glen Ross, Homicide, House of Games), these strengths are obvious. But Mamet is also willing to prostitute himself for a buck. The Edge, like The Untouchables, has some wonderful touches but none of the nuanced interchanges, the butch-dadaist dialogue of, say, American Buffalo.

There are plenty of fine moments, though. Mamet's canny ear helps The Edge rise above the usual plunge and hiss of most action movies. Bob, the catty fashion photographer, explains the benefits of having a watch that keeps time in both Eastern and Pacific time zones: "So I don't have to go through the anguish of adding three." And despite the big Hollywood plot, Mamet still shows shades of his customary obsession with his own gender, specifically that pseudo father-son bonding routine. You can bet that old Charley and Bob are due to have the kind of touching moments of togetherness that men can only have with other men. "You've never had a pal!" Bob accuses Charley near the end of his ordeal. Maybe he didn't before, but he has one now.

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