Desolation therapy

Alec Baldwin and Anthony Hopkins square off in the wild.

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First, The Game. Now, The Edge. Tis' the season, it would seem, for tycoons to undergo shock therapy. In real life, Ted Turner can find enlightenment with 10-digit philanthropy. But Hollywood requires a more tortured and circuitous route.

Witness billionaire Charles Morse (Anthony Hopkins), tagging along on a photo shoot with his super-model wife, Mickey (Elle MacPherson), at a remote lodge in the wilds of Alaska. Robert Green (Alec Baldwin) is the photographer, a bit too familiar with the wife and a bit too deferent to the husband.

In the early scenes, writer David Mamet and director Lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors) do a lovely job of creating an uneasy psychic climate, with Charles moping around the periphery, appraising the vibrations between his wife and the aggressively glib photog. Tamahori knows a thing or two about the games unhappy men play. And that famous Mamet gloom machine runs at full throttle on a blend of hard-bitten realism and crisp dialogue laced with acidic irony.

Unfortunately, the promising introduction gives way to plot points when Green decides that he must have an "authentic" Indian for his shoot and convinces Charles to accompany him on a mission to find his man. As is the wont of action thrillers, the plane must crash, but not before Charles confronts Green with Act 2's calling card: "How are you going to kill me, Bob?"

So begins an "Outward Bound via Hemingway" odyssey of men testing themselves and each other in the savage, unforgiving world of macho metaphors. (Papa, cue Bart the killer bear, please.) Despite a few thrills, one moans and groans at the more literal chorusing of Tamahori's landscape vistas and Mamet's wilderness of his men's souls. But the leads are mesmerizing.

Alec Baldwin, nearing 40, the once divine face taking on flab, has become the quintessential Mamet swine. In Glengarry Glen Ross, he nearly stole the show as the uptown hatchet man, come to read the riot act of extinction to a gang of real estate salesmen much further down the food chain of American capitalism. In The Edge, his Bob is a man suffering through an existence of surface flash, the body corpulent from decadence, the soul withering from cynicism and self-doubt that he projects relentlessly onto Charles. Whatever good that's left in him is being given last call. And Bob simply isn't up for it. Envy and greed and petulance are his second nature. Tough only in talk, he lacks the "edge" to reverse the fortunes of his damaged karma.

And what to say about Sir Tony except that he's done it again? The icy blues gleam with steely confidence and that wondrous voice purrs with the sage calm of an Indian guide or bellows like Iron John, ready to slay the overheated beasts of fur and fear.

Man of thought, man of action -- Charles is Mamet's ├╝ber-mensch, the wallflower who applies his "theoretical" knowledge to survive while less erudite, more macho men succumb. This being Mamet, his reward is the possibility of personal change. We are left unsure if the cure will actually take, but hope for the best while expecting the worst.

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