This trailer for The Edge kind of misrepresents the movie. After watching it, you’d think the film was a simple, fast paced odd-couple survival comedy with hints of domestic revenge. It sells Alec Baldwin as the smart-assed youngster to Anthony Hopkins’ curmudgeon, and while that’s in there, the film is smarter, wryer, and more complex than what the trailer implies.
Directed by Kiwi director Lee Tamahori in 1997, almost his precise career midpoint between Once Were Warriors and Die Another Day, The Edge is all about screenwriter David Mamet’s preoccupation with probing and deconstructing masculinity. Baldwin’s Bob Green is a mid-thirties fashion photographer: all empty alpha-male bravado, completely sure of his place in the world. Hopkins is Charles Morse, billionaire with a photographic memory, calm, quietly confident fount of seemingly useless knowledge picked up from a lifetime of fervent reading. These two personalities clash from the start, but when their plane crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, the stakes rise considerably.
What follows is a clash of these two brands of masculinity, even as they work together to survive the Kodiak wilderness. Bob can’t survive without Charles’ suddenly-useful trivia; Charles can’t survive without working with Bob. Each scene is laced with grim, misanthropic humour, as their bickering turns to camaraderie and then loathing as they battle a bear and the cold and ultimately each other. The moral lines are blurry as hell in the film’s final act, as it shrinks down to a claustrophobic battle of patience and stamina. I’m a sucker for survival movies in general, but The Edge is one of my favourites, largely thanks to that character dynamic. It's the same sense of masculinity under stress-test that The Grey so successfully mined years later.
What’s kind of remarkable about The Edge is that it’s more or less a three-hander between Hopkins and Baldwin (who both absolutely kill it in this film) and a Kodiak bear, played by famed bear actor Bart the Bear. Bart’s performance is a triumph of both animal handling and film editing: he’s a terrifying physical presence in the film, even though he was, apparently, docile and friendly onset. In the version of The Edge that would be made today, the bear would undoubtedly be rendered with CGI; sure, we’d all marvel at the photorealism of its fur and movements, but the actual movie does one better - we just never think twice about it. It’s simply a bear onscreen, and no amount of pixels can match the instant acceptance that achieves.
Bart the Bear died of cancer in 2000 at age 23, having appeared in over a dozen films. Though he did once appear onstage in the Oscars ceremony, he never won an Academy Award.