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Mr. Brooks (2007)

DIRECTOR: Bruce A. Evans

CAST: Kevin Costner, Demi Moore, William Hurt, Dane Cook, Marg Helgenberger, Danielle Panabaker, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Lindsay Crouse

REVIEW:

According to star/producer Kevin Costner, Mr. Brooks was conceived as the first film in a trilogy, but in the wake of modest box-office earnings, whether or not any other installments will get the greenlight is up in the air.  That’s kind of a shame, because Mr. Brooks is actually a lot of fun: a deliciously devious little thriller that combines plenty of twists and turns with a macabre sense of humor.

Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner) is a successful businessman, philanthropist, family man, and Man of the Year.  He has a loving and supportive wife (Marg Helgenberger) and a daughter (Danielle Panabaker) attending college.  But he also has a dark side hidden from the world that manifests itself in his imaginary alter ego, known as Marshall (William Hurt).  Mr. Brooks is the notorious so-called Thumbprint Killer, but has gone without killing for two years.  Marshall’s goading, however, is incessant, and Brooks gives in to his urges.  This time, however, he makes the uncharacteristically clumsy mistake of leaving the drapes open when he shoots a couple dead in their bed, and soon a voyeur who calls himself Mr. Smith (Dane Cook) shows up to blackmail him, only Smith isn’t after money: he wants to accompany Brooks on his next kill.  Meanwhile, Detective Atwood (Demi Moore), who pursued the Thumbprint Killer years earlier, realizes her long-dormant quarry is active again.

It’s easy to see why Kevin Costner was cast as Mr. Brooks.  Earl Brooks is an amiable, clean-cut, respectable man, and Costner is automatically looked at by audiences as a “good guy”.  It’s a little bit of a tricky role to play such an outward exterior while hinting at a dark, haunted core.  Costner’s performance is mostly low-key and effective, and one thing about Mr. Brooks that some may find a little disquieting is that it probably comes as close as possible to making a serial killer a sympathetic character.  Earl has done indefensible, vile things, repeatedly for a long time, but he sincerely and earnestly, deeply struggles to quit.  This leaves the scenery-chewing villainy to William Hurt, who embodies and revels in the dark, base urges that Earl tries to suppress.  Hurt has no trouble with his sinister part, and in fact supplies much of the morbid humor.  Dane Cook, who always seems like an obnoxious creep even when he keeps getting (mis)cast in romantic comedies, has maybe the one role that fits him as the slimy Mr. Smith.  Demi Moore is adequate as Atwood, but her character doesn’t give her much to work with.  Moore tries to make her sharp and tough, but Atwood is a standard-issue “tough woman movie cop” whose subplot leaves no cliche unturned: she’s in the middle of a messy divorce from a gold-digging husband who’s sleeping with his lawyer, works as a cop despite her privileged background to prove herself to her father, and has an escaped killer she put away gunning for her.  We also have Marg Helgenberger as the token oblivious wife, Ruben Santiago-Hudson and Lindsay Crouse as Atwood’s partner and boss, and Danielle Panabaker as Earl’s daughter, who proves to have a little more significance than you might expect.

Mr. Brooks has a slightly off-center perspective that lends it just enough quirkiness to lend it a little distinction.  The prime example is the decision to have Brooks’ dark side physically embodied by another actor who sits beside or behind him in the car and walks behind him in rooms, whispering pleas, advice, and insinuations in his ear.  While this might initially be a little off-putting, it proves an effective way of visualizing Earl’s inner battle. It’s also nice when the characters in a thriller don’t stumble around making all sorts of obvious mistakes.  Brooks and Atwood don’t act like idiots (Smith isn’t as bright, but he’s not meant to be).  In fact, Brooks has a few nice touches, like the plastic bag his gun is wrapped in to catch the discharged shells, and cleaning the crime scene with the victims’ own vacuum cleaner and then removing its bag.  Atwood’s subplot is less effective; it’s cliched and generic, and takes up a sizable chunk of screentime when the central Brooks/Marshall/Smith plot is much more offbeat and intriguing. Even if Brooks wasn’t a tormented and conflicted soul, his meticulousness, and the cool, collected way he deals with the array of twists thrown in his path makes it hard not to at least take a guilty pleasure in wanting to see him get away with it all somehow, even if we know we really shouldn’t be rooting for him.  Maybe it’s because his most pressing problem, Smith, is a slimeball himself, not to mention dumber and less interesting.  It’s nice, not to mention fun, to watch a movie character, even and sometimes especially a “villain”, who’s at least as smart as anyone else in the movie and isn’t two steps behind the audience.  It’s a refreshing pleasure to watch a movie where everything isn’t telegraphed before it comes around the corner.  The ending leaves both Brooks’ and Atwood’s stories unresolved (probably a result of this being intended as only the first installment), but it achieves the sense that despite his fervent, oft-repeated prayers, no lasting peace is on the way for Mr. Brooks.

***

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