After a nearly eight-year absence, Mel Gibson returns in front of the big screen in the new thriller “Edge of Darkness,” an enjoyable enough revenge flick that’s a little more than your standard action fare. This is a film that has its crowd-pleasing moments, but also has a little substance beneath the surface that makes it pretty compelling, too.

Gibson plays Thomas Craven, a Boston homicide detective and single father whose world is turned upside down when his daughter, Emma (Bojana Novakovic), is killed on the front steps of his home.

At first it appears that he was the intended target, but the more Thomas looks into the shooting, the more pieces come together - pointing to a government conspiracy involving Emma and her employer.

Anyone who has seen the ads for “Darkness” knows this is a film and a role catered to Gibson’s strengths - a man pushed to the edge who takes no prisoners in his quest for the truth.

Gibson channels his inner-“Lethal Weapon” and has a few crowd-pleasing moments, although I think people may be surprised at how little action there really is in “Darkness.”

Instead, the film veers into a conspiracy film, with the pieces of the puzzle slowly coming together. By taking the story in this direction, the makers of “Darkness” take a calculated gamble that I think pays off.

The conspiracy plot allows British actor Ray Winstone to enter the film as a gun-for-hire who normally stops people from uncovering the truth, but has opted to help steer Thomas in the right direction.

The scenes with Winstone and Gibson have snap - easily the best part of “Edge of Darkness.” It’s those moments when this film shows depth and substance that is rare in big-budget action films - making it just good enough to separate itself from the ever-growing pack of mediocre thrillers.

Also opening this week

For me, one of the great moments during Tuesday’s Oscar nominations was the inclusion of Colin Firth for his hauntingly beautiful work in the film “A Single Man” (A), which opens in Bowling Green this weekend.

Adapted from the novel by Christopher Isherwood, this is a sad and moving cinematic experience, anchored by Firth’s Oscar-worthy performance.

Firth plays George, an English professor in the 1960s mourning the death of his lover, Jim (Matthew Goode), who was killed in a car crash several months earlier.

It’s a tragedy that George is still unable to come to terms with, leading him to ponder suicide.

First time director Tom Ford creates a somber and isolated world for George, using the film’s color palette to project his character’s emotions. For the most part “A Single Man” is shot in sepia tones, except for the rare moments of passion and emotion from its lead - when the screen bursts with color and light. It’s a visual touch that could come off as gimmicky, but it really grew on me.

Goode, Nicholas Hoult (as one of George’s students) and Julianne Moore (as George’s female friend who longs to be more) are all very good, but it is Firth who stands out. The actor has been very good in films such as “Bridget Jones” and “Love Actually,” but he is virtually unrecognizable here - he immerses himself in a role that is full of pain and sorrow and remorse.

It’s brave work from an amazing talent and the main reason why “A Single Man” is so special.

“A Single Man” is rated R for some disturbing images and nudity/sexual content and opens Friday at Great Escape 12.

- For sportswriter/movie reviewer Micheal Compton’s thoughts on Tuesday’s Oscar nominations visit his blog at mcompton.wordpress.com or his Twitter page at twitter.com/mcompton428. You can also e-mail him at mcompton@bgdailynews.com.

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