Mel Gibson in Edge of DarknessOn July 28, 2006, Mel Gibson was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol -- resulting in the now-infamous mug shots and blurry camera phone photos -- and, in the process, said some pretty terrible things that offended, well, everybody. You know things are bad when 'Law & Order' creates a "ripped from the headlines" episode based on your behavior starring Chevy Chase -- not exactly saddled with the reputation of being a nice guy, himself -- as your facsimile.

OK, that's out of the way; no one is is defending his actions that evening. Now that Gibson is returning to theaters this weekend with 'Edge of Darkness' (his first starring role since 2002's 'Signs'), a line has been drawn in the sand. There are two choices: a) remember Gibson for the above actions; actions for which he has more than paid his debt to society -- legally and publicly -- or b) watch Gibson hunt down and kill the bad guys that murdered his daughter. To be honest, I didn't even realize that I felt this way until after seeing his new film, but, yeah, I kind of missed the guy. I'm choosing "b."
You want to know when everything went downhill for Mel Gibson? Right about the time he stopped acting. You see, people love Martin Riggs and Bret Maverick (a character so charming I named a dog after that character -- not, as most suspected after the call sign of Pete Mitchell from 'Top Gun'). In other words: People love the Mel Gibson they see on the movie screen; I love the Mel Gibson I see on the movie screen. Gibson was still ranked by the Harris Poll as one of America's Favorite Move Stars as recently as 2006 and won a People's Choice award for Favorite Actor in January 2004 even though, again, he hadn't actually, you know, starred in a movie since 2002. People loved Mel!

Gibson experienced success as the director of 2004's 'The Passion of the Christ' and 2006's 'Apocalypto,' both of which happen to be extremely violent films. After his incident, this is a point that was, unfairly, used to help convict Gibson publicly as a bit of a nut. Well, yes (!), of course he's a bit of a nut! Gibson's having a screw loose is exactly why audiences loved him. Name me one actor who displays so much manic joy as he puts a vengeful bullet through villain's head? No one is better at this. The problem is, he stopped doing it. The public forgot about the on-screen nut they loved and was, instead, faced only with the off-screen version that directs polarizing films and got himself into a bit of trouble.

Now, after eight years, he's finally back as a leading actor in 'Edge of Darkness,' adapted from the BBC series of the same name. Gibson plays Thomas Craven, a Boston cop who witnessed his daughter's murder and now seeks revenge. I've read that some naysayers question Gibson for choosing this film as his return vehicle ... They're wrong. Make no mistake, this film is right in Mel Gibson's wheelhouse. People who haven't driven a car for a few years don't immediately jump on the Autobahn. So why would Gibson risk returning in a period piece about subsidizing the Russian farming industry? (Though, when he does, I'm totally there.)

Sure, Gibson's new film is dark -- it is called 'Edge of Darkness,' after all, with emphasis on the "darkness" -- but it's not grim. There's a difference. Ever-present is Gibson's quirky charm and humor -- it's been so long, it's easy to forget just how funny Gibson can be -- as he hunts down and kills the people responsible for his daughter's death. Let me repeat: This is a film starring a cracking-wise Mel Gibson shooting bad guys. What else could anyone possibly want in a late January movie release?

Gibson still has a long way to go in regard to his current comeback; there is still a fair amount of ill will. But, really, is it that hard to separate an unfortunate incident that happened four years ago and a movie character? Come on, Gibson was even a good enough sport to play along with Rickie Gervais's Golden Globes barb, "I like a drink as much as the next man ... unless the next man is Mel Gibson," as Gibson walked on stage to present an award. The man is trying. So, yes, welcome back, Mel. It's good to see you in front of the camera again (mug shots and blurry camera phone photos aside).


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