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The Edge (1997)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

"They were fighting over a woman when the plane went down. Now, their only chance for survival is each other."

The Edge is one of those films that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat. It is a suspense/thriller, but unlike many films of that genre, The Edge is also very thought provoking and intellectually challenging. It is a story of men struggling to survive in the wilderness, against the forces of nature in the form of extreme climate conditions, ferocious wild animals, and perhaps the most dangerous element: each other.

Charles Morse (Anthony Hopkins) is a billionaire and a walking storehouse of knowledge about many things, seemingly unrelated to business. He is taking a rare break and traveling with his wife Mickey (Elle Macpherson), a photographic model, and her entourage to a remote northern lodge. Also traveling in the troop are Robert “Bob” Green (Alec Baldwin), her photographer and his sidekick Stephen (Harold Perrineau Jr.).

Upon arrival at the lodge they all meet the owner Styles (L.Q. Jones), who is challenged to “stump” Charles, when his encyclopedic knowledge is brought up. Styles grabs a boat paddle from an archway in his lodge and showing him the panther on one face of the oar, riddles Charles to name what is on the opposite face. Charles correctly answers: a rabbit smoking a pipe. He goes on to tell how it is a traditional Cree motif bearing the panther and his prey the rabbit, who is unafraid because he is smarter than the panther. That small tale encapsulates David Mamet’s (The Winslow Boy) story in this movie. The panther is a predator, but the rabbit is the more intelligent of the two, and so, unafraid.    

As the arrival gathering breaks up, Styles warns them all to cover all food because they have a “problem with bears.” At bedtime Mickey asks Charles for a sandwich. He goes to the kitchen which is open at all hours and sets to making the sandwich. While there he notices that a ham has been left uncovered and a door is ajar. The suspense builds and when he goes with the sandwich to open an interior door what seems to be a bear looms on the other side. Charles falls causing massive crockery damage, but “the bear” is merely Bob under a bear rug and the other lodge residents surprising Charles on his birthday. They give him birthday gifts, which include a watch from Mickey and a knife from Bob.

To find a subject for a photo shoot the next day, Bob and Stephen plan to fly further into the wilderness in search of Styles’ friend Jack Hawk (Gordon Tootoosis). Charles joins them and they board the same plane in which they flew to the lodge. During their flight they encounter a flock of migratory birds which cause extensive damage to the plane leading to a crash. Charles, Bob and Stephen survive the plane crash but are left in the wilderness with very little in supplies and only their wits to guide them.

While lost in the wild, the three survivors encounter the other “star” of the film, a large brown bear (Bart the Bear, who was in Legends of the Fall also with Anthony Hopkins). The scenes with Hopkins, Baldwin and the bear make for a very intense viewing experience, but also accentuate many aspects of survival and the human situation.

The Edge is an extremely well written and well cast film. Anthony Hopkins is excellent as Charles, the rational and life affirming intelligent survivor, while Alec Baldwin is his perfect opposite. In many films Alec Baldwin plays despicable characters so well. In part, The Edge is about what it means to be human. Charles is a survivor because he thinks. He not only knows many facts, but he relates that knowledge to the challenges of his life. Perhaps that is one reason he is a billionaire. On the other hand, Bob is not a paragon of rationality. Bob is deeply envious and resentful, a liar and a cheat.

I often hear people say that they like this movie immensely, but that the last line seems out of place. In counter to that, consider what the rabbit of the Cree boat paddle would say after surviving an encounter with the panther? Many David Mamet films have quite a bit to say about the deepest issues of life. The Edge may be one of the most deeply contemplative of the lot. Although it is an action adventure, it will give you plenty to think about.

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