Movie Review: Mr. Brooks
Release Date: June 1, 2007
· Bruce A. Evans
· Kevin Costner
· William Hurt
· Dane Cook
· Demi Moore
· Marg Helgenberger
· Danielle Panabaker
· Official site
· IMDb information
· Soundtrack at Amazon
by Max Braden
Published: June 1, 2007
Hi, I'm Hollywood, and I'm an addict. Hollywood can't get enough of the serial killer. This year alone we've already seen "The Hitcher", "Zodiac", and "Hannibal Rising". The godfather of modern serial killer movies, "The Silence of the Lambs", set the standard for plot and primary characters: the mutual admiration and game playing between a brilliant killer and a lone, driven, detective. It's spawned or inspired a number of imitators over the years, so much so that the generic plot description can be a turn-off for many viewers. But what mesmerized audiences in Silence - the villain - is also what makes Kevin Costner's new serial killer movie "Mr. Brooks" worth seeing. In it he plays a schizophrenic with an addiction for killing. The inner voice that drives him, as portrayed by William Hurt, is excellently depicted and the highlight of what would have been an otherwise average suspense thriller.
Costner's character of Earl Brooks is pretty much Kevin Costner (now in his 50s): reserved, refined, compassionate and generous almost as an afterthought, sometimes making it difficult to tell if he's paying full attention to a conversation before he finally acknowledges being a part of it (a particularly appropriate attribute for this story). The movie opens with the self-made Mr. Brooks receiving a Man of the Year award from Portland Oregon's Chamber of Commerce. He's a respected member of the community without being flashy, head of a high-end box company and drives a Volvo, looking just short of nerdy in his suits and dark-rimmed glasses. He clearly has a loving relationship with his wife Emma, played by Marg Helgenberger (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation). But a third person is along for their ride home, which may confuse an unaware audience: William Hurt appears in the back seat and talks to Costner, but Helgenberger doesn't seem to notice. We soon realize that Hurt is a voice, named Marshall, inside Costner's head, and he's pushing Mr. Brooks to kill.
It turns out that Mr. Brooks is not what he seems. He's a serial killer who picks his victims at random, studies them, shoots them, and then destroys all evidence of the crime. Though almost orgasmic at the moment of the kill, it's an addiction he does not truly enjoy. He attends addict meetings (conveniently leaving out the nature of his addictive behavior) and recites the alcoholic's prayer to himself. But even after two years of self-control, he eventually succumbs to the voice inside his head and kills again. (Viewers should be aware that the movie's violence is graphic). He is normally so careful in the execution of his crimes that he's never even been a suspect. But this time he slips up and gets caught on film by amateur photog Mr. Smith (comedian Dane Cook, "Employee of the Month"). Instead of going to the police, Mr. Smith uses his pictures for the ultimate twisted opportunity: demanding to join Mr. Brooks on his next kill. As if this blackmail weren't risk enough, Mr. Brooks also has to contend with the detective who's been tracking his work, played by Demi Moore ("Bobby", and being Mrs. Ashton Kutcher). Mr. Brooks also has to look after his college-aged daughter (Danielle Panabaker, "Yours, Mine, and Ours") who has left school due to some suspicious and multi-layered reasons (her confession of one of them to the parents is one of the funnier scenes in the film).
The strength of the movie is really the trio of Mr. Brooks, Marshall, and Mr. Smith. Oscar winners Costner and Hurt play very well off each other and as a team, simultaneously bursting into laughter at a shared thought. And the depiction of Brooks' inner dialogue while in the presence of others is seamless, in no way distracting as were the gimmicky duplicate personalities of Johnny Depp's character in this year's "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End". Audiences will find themselves laughing and siding with the pair as they look upon Mr. Smith's reckless wannabe with contempt. Mr. Smith gets his own empathetic laughs too: haven't we all dreamt of giving in to road rage and burying that driver who cut us off on the highway? Mr. Smith's character gives us a chance to taste the temptation. On paper, Dane Cook's casting might send up a red flag, but he actually gives an entertaining performance as the character and not as 'Dane Cook.' Scenes where he expresses his naive giddiness at being part of a ride-along, or pouting when twice denied the payoff he demands, are some of the best in the movie. And composer Ramin Djawadi's dark-side/porn-groove score is repetitive but serves the tone of Mr. Brooks' thoughts.
Unfortunately the movie suffers a number of weaknesses that are a drain on the better sections. Emma is a bit too oblivious and unquestioning in regard to her husband's disappearances. Demi Moore's subplot does little to serve the main story. She deals with a divorcing husband (Jason Lewis, Brothers & Sisters and Sex and the City) out for her money plus a violent con recently released from prison, and it's not hard to see that both will get tied in to the Brooks story. Director Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon share writing credits on the original story (they received Oscar nominations for cowriting "Stand By Me"). They have Mr. Brooks foster his own notoriety as The Thumbprint Killer, due to a calling card element of his crimes, an inconsistent character trait given his otherwise meticulous efforts to erase his involvement in them. Demi Moore's character holds her own secret that would be unlikely to be a secret at all in the real world. And poor editing in the final scene of the movie nearly reduces the film to Who-Shot-J.R. twist level.
Mr. Brooks may not be the next Hannibal Lecter, but his dual performances by Costner and Hurt are distinctive in their own right. Worth a look.
"Mr. Brooks" opens in wide release on June 1, 2007.
Rated R for strong bloody violence, some graphic sexual content, nudity and language.
William Hurt gets Kevin Costner to make a detour, in "Mr. Brooks" Photo by Ben Glass © 2006 Lift Productions
...And Then What Happens?
-William Hurt appears in the Christopher McCandless biopic "Into the Wild" this Fall
-Dane Cook costars with Jessica Alba in the romantic comedy "Good Luck Chuck" in August
Also in theaters this week: "Knocked Up" | "Severance" | "Gracie"
Max's 2006 Ratings
Max's 2007 Ratings