Mel Gibson in 'Edge of Darkness' (Warner Bros.)

Bodies bob to the surface of a deserted river. A playful little girl is captured on home video. A troubled man waits for his daughter. Edge of Darkness, a powerhouse dramatic thriller directed by Martin Campbell, tends a bed of smoldering embers that occasionally, unexpectedly, explodes into a raging fire.

The largest ember is Craven, a Boston police detective. As played by Mel Gibson, Craven becomes a man on a mission only after his daughter is shot dead in front of his eyes. Before that, his life is a blank slate, more notable for the things that are missing rather than any sense of purpose. Unresolved questions follow him around like a lost puppy: why didn't he visit his only daughter? Why did he demonstrate so little interest in her career or her friends? What happened to his wife, evidently long gone from the scene? Why doesn't he have any friends? What kind of police detective is he?

From the evidence presented, Craven is a haunted loner with deep reserves of seething anger and brutal competence. The death of his daughter destroys him, as though he himself had absorbed the shotgun blast to the gut, but there's never any question that his own brand of justice will be served. First, though, he has to figure out who was trying to kill him.