Sex And The Single Bear

AFTER A FREAK PLANE CRASH, TWO men are left stranded in the freezing Alaskan wilderness without food, warm clothes or even a compass. One of these men, Charles Morse (Anthony Hopkins), happens to be an emotionally remote billionaire with a vast store of book-learned knowledge--such as how to make a compass out of a leaf and a paper clip, and how to make fire out of ice. This will come in handy. The other man is Robert Green (Alec Baldwin), a self-satisfied fashion photographer who has come to Alaska to do a photo shoot with Charles's gorgeous trophy wife (Elle Macpherson). Actually, there's initially a third man stranded in the wilds,Robert's assistant (Harold Perrineau), but he is only around long enough to become bear fodder. Yes, there's a bear in them thar woods--a ferocious man-killer who will track Charles and Robert for days as they desperately attempt to make their way back to civilization. One further plot point needs to be mentioned to convey the level of jeopardy cranked up by The Edge. The billionaire suspects that the photographer has been fooling around with his model wife and is planning to kill Charles so they can be together. It may be paranoia, and then again . . .

As movie premises go, this one is more than a little far-fetched. It's hardly the sort of tale you would expect to come from the pen of David Mamet, never known as an outdoorsy kind of guy. But Mamet brings an unusual level of intelligence to this boys'-adventure formula, and an edgy understanding of the ongoing games of one-upmanship men play. After a rocky, dutifully expositional beginning, ""The Edge'' turns into an unusually gripping suspense movie, its peril all the more effective for being unfashionably low-tech. Sticks and stones, for once, have it all over machine guns and laser rays. And if there is a better fight scene this year than the one New Zealand director Lee (""Once Were Warriors'') Tamahori stages here between man and bear, I haven't seen it. This beast--expertly played by veteran mammal Bart the Bear--is a truly memorable villain.

The chilly, brainy tycoon played by Hopkins is another reason Tamahori's movie merits attention. He takes a while to warm up to, as does Hopkins. At first the actor seemed to be phoning in one of his patented slow-burn performances (Hopkins, like Orson Welles, has a way of overacting when he's underacting: he can be utterly still and still seem to be doing too much). But as the character blossoms under adversity, he discovers resources he didn't even know he possessed. A lot of movies put their heroes through life-changing experiences, and you accept the convention without really believing that the protagonist's soul has been altered. ""The Edge,'' for all its hokiness, makes it real. When Hopkins comes down from the mountain, I believed he was looking at the world with new eyes.