Edge of Darkness, a gritty revenge thriller opening Jan. 29, marks Mel Gibson’s first leading-man role in eight years. With his recent tabloid baggage, can the 53-year-old still open an R-rated $80 million drama? “I don’t think anybody would have gotten involved if they had any doubts about Mel Gibson being a great actor and a movie star,” producer/financier Graham King tells EW.

In fact, this production (the adaptation of a successful BBC mini-series), returns Gibson, to the well-worn revenge drama territory that he’s mined so effectively in many films, including Ransom and the Lethal Weapon franchise. Sue Kroll, Warner Bros. president of marketing, says of Gibson’s character in Darkness: “It’s a role people love to see him in.” And by people, Kroll primarily means men, who not surprisingly are far more interested in this film than women, who in the past have been the primary drivers of his box-office success (on films such as What Women Want). “It has a lot to do with the kind of film we’re selling here and the fact that he’s an older movie star now,” Kroll adds. Darkness will open opposite the female-driven romantic comedy When in Rome. It will also mark Avatar‘s 7th weekend in theaters. Will Gibson be the man to finally unseat James Cameron’s juggernaut?

To read more about Gibson’s return to the big screen, pick up this week’s Entertainment Weekly, on stands now.