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The Best Movie You Never Saw: The Edge

Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.

This week we’ll be looking at THE EDGE!

THE STORY: A billionaire (Anthony Hopkins) married to a supermodel finds himself stranded in the Alaskan wilderness with his wife’s photographer- and possible lover (Alec Baldwin)- who he fears might be plotting to kill him. But, the two have bigger problems – namely the elements and a giant, vicious Kodiak bear that’s stalking them.

THE PLAYERS: Starring: Anthony Hopkins & Alec Baldwin. Music by: Jerry Goldsmith. Written by: David Mamet. Directed by: Lee Tamahori

“I got a new deal. I’m looking for you to write a new script.” “Fine.” “There’ll be lots of money.” “Good. Let’s do it.” “It’s not that easy.” “Why?” “Because if you don’t tell me what it’s about I can’t get you the money.” “Fine. What do you want it to be about?” “I don’t know, that’s why I’m calling you.” “I understand.” “Dave, how about an adventure movie?” “Fine.” “Something castable. Two guys, maybe.” “Fine.” “C’mon, Dave, I need more to go on.” “O.K. . . . How ’bout two guys and a bear?” “It’s a start.” – Producer Art Linson to writer David Mamet (pitching THE EDGE) – Ah Wilderness, by Art Linson – published in Vanity Fair

THE HISTORY: Twenty years ago, this film business was wildly different from what it is now. Tent-pole movies were just that – films that were meant to hold up studios throughout the year so that they could focus on delivering a wide range of films. Some of these would become hits, some would be flops, but most would be solid singles or doubles, movies that more or less broke even at the box office but made money on home video and cable. THE EDGE, costing roughly $30 million and featuring two solid actors that – nonetheless – were not box office juggernauts, was always meant to be this kind of movie.

Apparently, the making of it was something of an ordeal, with producer Art Linson writing at length about his struggles with star Alec Baldwin and the choice he made to wear a beard, a battle dramatized in the film version of his memoirs, WHAT JUST HAPPENED. In his own book, Alec Baldwin put much of the blame at the feet of director Lee Tamahori, who he believes watered down David Mamet’s script and was more interested in action than character, a fair criticism if you watch his follow-up movies, DIE ANOTHER DAY and NEXT. When all was said and done, this modestly priced adventure drama grossed a respectable $43 million worldwide – not really a hit but not a horrible flop either.

WHY IT'S GREAT: If THE EDGE were to be made nowadays, at best it would be a micro budget indie or a Netflix original film. There’s no way it would be a big-budget, studio-driven star vehicle. If something like this were made by a studio now, instead of a bear hunting the two men it would be an alien. Realism seems to be box office poison these days, as does anything that isn’t “high concept”, which makes a movie like this, which once would have been just another programmer, seem like a minor miracle.

Boasting a top-notch David Mamet screenplay, with superb location photography by Donald McAlpine and a score by the late, great Jerry Goldsmith, THE EDGE is a film that’s ripe for rediscovery. Originally titled “Bookworm” (a far better title), Anthony Hopkins gets the rare lead in an action film as a self-made billionaire who, in a move that was far less controversial then than it would be now, is a relatively decent guy. When he gets stranded in the wilderness with Alec Baldwin’s fashion photographer, a man that at the very least is having an affair with his wife, he tries his best to get them both out alive (although a third tag-along- played by Harold Perrineau- isn’t so lucky).

Mamet makes Hopkins’s character into a MacGuyver-esque sort, able to turn a leaf and needle into a compass and totally at home in the wilderness, unlike his younger, supposedly more virile co-star. As far as casting goes, it’s pretty impeccable. Hopkins is innately likable and seems to be having a blast playing his version of an action hero, while Alec Baldwin makes a thoroughly unsavory character somewhat conflicted and likable, leading to an unconventional denouement that speaks volumes about Mamet’s talent as a writer.

“A tame old movie bear who should send the film editor a fruit basket every day for making him look so scary." – Alec Baldwin on Bart the Bear – South Florida Sun Sentinel

Another ideal addition to the cast is perhaps the greatest bear actor of all-time, Bart. For those of you were weren’t around in the nineties, Bart the Bear became something of a celebrity after appearing in Jean-Jacques Annaud ‘s THE BEAR and eating Brad Pitt in LEGENDS OF THE FALL. Famous for being tame despite his fearsome look, he even presented an award at the Oscars one year, and this ranks as one of his best showcases.

"Tony Hopkins was absolutely brilliant with Bart…He acknowledged and respected him like a fellow actor. He would spend hours just looking at Bart and admiring him. He did so many of his own scenes with Bart." Bart the Bear trainer Lynne Seus – Seattle Times

If anything, THE EDGE suffers from the choice of Tamahori as a director, who isn’t quite up to the level of his stars and technical team. He makes the movie a touch watered-down, and while his action sequences are exciting, it’s tempting to wonder what a surer hand at the helm might have been capable of (although to give him his due, his ONCE WERE WARRIORS is a superb film). In Baldwin’s memoirs, he goes on and on about the frustration he felt with his director and producer, and it’s hard not to take his side as it seems they wanted to make a modest adventure movie, but didn’t notice the elements were all there to make a classic – a category this falls just short of.

BEST SCENE: Hopkins and Baldwin were born to deliver David Mamet dialogue. This isn’t something everyone can do. In fact, I’d wager that just as many actors fall flat on their face delivering his dialogue as excel at it. It’s no surprise Baldwin became something of a Mamet mainstay over the years, and Hopkins, so stranger to prose, is his equal. I love this bit where Hopkins tries to psyche Baldwin up for their showdown with the bear, with a censored version of Hopkins’s final one-liner making it into all the TV spots of the era.

SEE IT: THE EDGE is available on Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and many streaming services.

PARTING SHOT: While THE EDGE is frustrating in that it never quite overcomes the conventions of the genre to become an all-timer, it’s still a damn fine adventure film, and a smart one to boot. If this is one you haven’t heard of, check it out, but it’s also well-worth a revisit if you only remember it as being a decent late-nineties actioner. It’s quite a bit better than you likely remember.

Source: JoBlo.com

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