I don't remember the last time I reacted to a performance as emotionally as I did to Justin Timberlake's in "Edison." I got so emotional I wanted to scream in anguish, destroy the screen, readily accept the hopeless cries of nihilism. Timberlake is horribly miscast; in fact, casting him is like casting Andy Dick to play the lead role in "Patton," or Nathan Lane to play Jesus. But that is almost beside the point.
Timberlake is simply a bad actor and he would be equally terrible in any role. I used to have problems with Ben Affleck's acting talent, but Timberlake makes Affleck look like Sir Ian McKellen or Dame Judi Dench. With his metrosexual lisp (read lithp), his boyish glances and emotional expressions which derive from something like "The 25 Cliché Expressions for Actors," he poisons the screen upon which he is inflicted mercilessly, and no matter how you slice it, I do not and will not buy his role as an amateur-turned-crusader-for-justice journalist. It simply will not fly.
However, Timberlake alone isn't to blame for his failure. Director David J. Burke puts him not only in the (essentially) primary role, but also places him aside Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, John Heard, Dylan McDermott, Cary Elwes and (I'm surprised he was as good) LL Cool J. I can imagine one almost physically suffering watching some of this cast interact with Timberlake.
There is an upside to this of course: the moment any of these actors interact without Justin there it feels like a double relief. A pleasure, if you will. Freeman and Spacey may not have more than 10 minutes of screen time alone together, but that ten minutes is blissful in contrast to their scenes with our so-called hero. Dylan McDermott is also a breath of fresh air.
But enough of Timberlake bashing - words aren't enough in this particular case to do the trick. "Edison" is a very, very run-of-the-mill corruption story. It's plot ranges from cliché to simply preposterous. I do, however, admire the motivation behind making it, which I interpret as an homage to films like "Serpico," or "Donnie Brasco," or maybe even "Chinatown." Don't get me wrong - "Edison" is not even in the same ballpark as these films, but I can stretch my suspension of disbelief to admire its reason for existence, perhaps to justify my sitting through it.
The script, in and of itself, features some surprisingly bad writing. Yes, it has some decent interchanges, but any conversation between Piper Perabo (who is wasted here) and Timberlake seems like it was lifted straight out of a Dawson's Creek episode. It's your typical far-too-glib-for-reality, let's-impress-the-audience-with-how-well-we-articulate (and fail) dialogue. This dialogue, mind you, is punctuated by great music at the wrong moments - sometimes it feels like "Edison" wants to morph into a music video, where the emotion of the scene is not communicated through acting, but precisely through the badly chosen music and variant film speeds (read slow-motion).
Thinking about it, "Edison" is a curiosity. It's sure as hell got a cast to kill for but the performances are marred by Timberlake who simply doesn't work. In film as in most art, if one thing is off, the whole thing feels off. Directors must make tough choices. David J. Burke missed the mark here. Some of the scenes play well in and of themselves, but as a whole, they don't seem to fit like puzzle pieces from different puzzles forced into one incoherent picture. And it's not particularly an exciting puzzle to begin with.