Director: Bruce A. Evans
Cast: Kevin Costner, Demi Moore, Dane Cook, William Hurt, Marg Helgenberger, Danielle Panabaker
MPAA Rating: (for strong bloody violence, some graphic sexual content, nudity and language)
Running Time: 2:00
Release Date: 6/1/07
Review by Mark Dujsik
There's enough of an apparent Hollywood influence on Mr. Brooks to slightly hold it back from becoming a completely uncompromising, disturbing look at an amoral antihero, but even in diluted form, this story of a sociopath leading double lives is still darkly entertaining and occasionally flat-out weird. It's reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith's Ripley novels, and that is flattering praise. Like its central character, it is a film at war with itself, trying to be an eccentric character study and a Hollywood thriller, but once it becomes clear that this is an entirely plot-driven story with a contradictory, mysterious, and lethal character at its center, it all comes together. Mr. Brooks' story twists and turns as the titular character's machinations unfold in unexpected, sometimes genuinely exciting ways, and director Bruce A. Evans (only his second film after a 15-year hiatus) balances his and Raynold Gideon's complicated script well. The film also has a wicked sense of humor, a cynical view of humanity, and solid performances of definitive character types from its leads. For its star Kevin Costner, the film is a career highpoint and a redefining moment.
"The hunger has returned to Mr. Brooks' brain. It never really left." Cryptically, the film opens, and immediately after, we see Earl Brooks (Costner) receiving the Man of the Year award from the Portland Chamber of Commerce. Brooks runs a box company, is married to the beautiful Emma (Marg Helgenberger), and has a daughter (Danielle Panabaker) in college. He also has a dark side, and it's mentally projected to Brooks in the form of Marshall (William Hurt), with whom Brooks has conversations that no one else hears. It's been two years since Brooks gave in to Marshall's temptations, but the desire has returned. He tells his wife he's going to the office to work on a design but instead murders a couple in the throes of passion and cleans up the evidence. That leaves little for Detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore), who's also in the midst of a high-stakes divorce, to find, but she knows the murders mark the return of "The Thumbprint Killer." Meanwhile, Brooks must contend with his daughter's decision to drop out of school and the arrival of the mysterious Mr. Smith (Dane Cook), who has photographs of Brooks at the scene of the crime. In return for his silence, Smith wants to participate in Brooks' next murder.
Brooks and Smith drive around on the prowl for a random victim while Brooks begins to teach Smith the ropes of serial killing. Marshall is delighted with the scenario and impressed by just how demented Smith is. In a way, Smith is so twisted in enjoying the escapades, Brooks starts to look better. After all, he's cold and heartless when it comes to murder. "I don't enjoy this; I'm addicted to it," he confides, and he attends AA meetings, although only admitting that he's an "addict." The psychological elements here are shaky but still intriguing, and even though Marshall as a manifestation of Brooks' sinister side is gimmicky, William Hurt pulls off the trick with chilling menace and diabolical humor. Costner, on the other hand, has an incredibly tricky role here. There's a stillness to the performance for the most part, but when Marshall begins to affect his reasoning, we have to question whether or not he does enjoy his role as a killer. There is, after all, a moment of release, seen as a spin with arms outreached toward the heavens, after he kills again for the first time after his time away. His outward self—the one with a family and business—is a calm demeanor using proper, calculated speech.
Add to this a desire for an unachievable redemption, and the character is fascinating. Costner pulls it all off with surprising ease. Once Brooks' psychoses have been established but not fully revealed (the script is smart to leave plenty of mystery), the plot becomes much more complicated. Atwood begins to suspect Smith of having seen something, and in a particularly well-played scene, she almost pushes him to honesty. Demi Moore and Dane Cook are solid in their roles as well. Cook in particular is a standout as one sick puppy. There's also an escaped killer that Atwood arrested, which might seem oddly thrown in (especially during a shootout sequence, set to techno music and the blasts of the guns as a strobe effect, that is completely out of tone with the rest of the film), but all of the elements are here for Brooks' master plan—one about which we know very little until all is revealed. Less fitting in to the overall arc of Brooks' scheme are circumstances which point to the possibility of his daughter having similar problems to his own, and a subplot involving a murder at her school and Brooks' reasoning to become involved seem to contradict his pathology.
While I may not be completely sold on Earl Brooks, I am extremely absorbed by his mishmash of psychological ailments and the ways in which they send this film down unexpected terrain. Mr. Brooks has a shocking finale, which is undone in the film's final moments, but that undoing leaves room for further exploits. I welcome them; one movie is not enough for this enigmatic character. That is also flattering praise.
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.