Published September 1, 1997
Of The Edge, written by David Mamet and directed by Lee Tamahori, it must be said that we should be grateful for what it does not do. It does not make the billionaire, Charles Morris (Anthony Hopkins) into a predictable rich-man villain, or even into a soulless, unpleasant character who stands aside as the real drama takes place around him. Nor does it make Bob (Alec Baldwin), the handsome photographer with whom he is stranded in the Alaskan wilderness and who, he suspects, has designs on his wife (Elle MacPherson) and his money, into a predictable man-of-the-people hero. Yet there is something disappointingly predictable about the scenario anyway. If you enjoy trying to guess what happens, just remember this: in the movies you’re bound to come out ahead if you bet on the paranoid fantasy’s coming true every time.
Yet all credit to Mamet that Bob’s aspersions cast on people with money are not simply the product of barely concealed envy. Bob admires Charles more than he envies him. On one occasion when they are almost on the point of death he loses his temper with him. Rich people like him, he says, spend their time drinking cocktails at their golf clubs and screwing their maids, “but when catastrophe strikes, you really bloom!” He can’t get over Charles’s dispassionate but bulldog like determination to survive when he himself would long since have been content to lie down and die. “Maybe we were right to put you in charge of things for all those years; you’re the only ones dense enough.”
“I’m not dense,” replies Charles matter-of-factly. “I just have no imagination.”
This seems to me a little unfair. Why must strength of will and imagination be antithetical? Maybe they are, but the film never makes a case for the proposition but merely assserts it. Yet once you grant its central premiss, that Bob and Charles represent a kind of yang and yin, it becomes fascinating to watch how each needs the other in order to survive. Unfortunately, there are a few too many nagging implausibilities. How could they have spent so much time in water, in Alaska, and not have died (or even come close to dying) of exposure? How could a smart guy like Charles, on a cloudless day, have put all his trust in a compass made from a paper-clip and a leaf when he could have just looked up at the sun to find which way was south? And then, when they are attacked by a kodiak bear, how could they keep flinging brands onto the fire circle around them all night without running out of fuel? Most unbelievable of all, how could they go for several days without food and still have the strength not only to kill the bear (played by Bart the Bear, trainer Doug Seus) but, apparently, to cure and tan its skin as well?
There are other discontinuities too, but along with them there is so much good writing, good acting and magnificent scenery that the film is, in spite of them, worth seeing.