After a seven year hiatus, Mel Gibson returns to acting in Edge of Darkness, a revenge thriller that debuts this weekend. In it he plays Tom Carven, a high-octane Boston cop who hunts down his daughter's murderer. By all accounts, the movie is an "explosion of violence" that leaves a "trail of bodies and blood." But this shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. Gibson's films, which include Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto, are notoriously full of violent imagery.

Of course, Gibson is also considered the most powerful Christian in Hollywood, and this is where the tension arises. Gibson's obsession with violence is causing a number of critics to question his moral vision. Here's what NPR's David Edelstein noticed when he reviewed the film:

The audience I saw it with went nuts whenever Gibson taunted a bad guy, and hypernuts when he blew one away. Gibson is a professed Christian with an Old Testament fury -- or maybe the fury of Revelation: Anything for an excuse to not turn the other cheek.
Taking it further, MercatorNet's Carolyn Moynihan attacks Gibson's entire oeuvre saying it contradicts fundamental Christian values:
In The Patriot, the sadistic mass killings and burnings by the English army are almost matched by the ferocity of the hero's vengeance. The throat slittings and torture in Braveheart are more memorable than the fabled battle scene. And yes, the prolonged scourging of Christ in The Passion is more than many pious Catholics can bear to watch. Granted, it is not half so cruel and bloody as the original event, but the attempt at realism here is ambiguous in its effects, if not intention.

The violence in these and other Gibson films seems to express more than anything an anger that, starting from a moral standpoint (injustices wrought historically by the British, the corruption of ancient cultures...) sets out to both accuse and avenge. Nothing can be too extreme in the defence of noble values.

Gibson once said in a throwaway line, "I'm somewhere between Howard Stern and St Francis of Assisi on the scale of morality." If at present he has more in common with the "shock jock" radio host, there is still a chance to scale the heights of St Francis. Only he will have to leave a lot of that blood and gore behind. Amongst other things.