June 1, 2007 (USA)
Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon
Bruce A. Evans
Kevin Costner as Mr Earl Brooks
Demi Moore as Det. Tracy Atwood
Dane Cook as Mr Smith
William Hurt as Marshall
Marg Helgenberger as Emma Brooks
My initial reaction to seeing a poster for Mr Brooks in my local DVD outlet: Kevin Costner as a serial killer? Get real! But when I discovered it was written by the team who came up with the brilliant Stand By Meadaptation (namely Bruce A Evans and Raynold Gideon) I begrudgingly gave this one a go. Although it hardly blew me away, it was an entertaining throw-away flick for a Thursday night curled up on the couch, and a worthy addition to the horror/thriller genre.
Kevin Costner plays Earl Brooks, and he’s an addict. His addictive personality is represented by alter-ego Marshall (William Hurt), an imaginary friend of sorts who shows up whenever Earl is confronted with a dilemma, moral or otherwise, to provide “devil on the shoulder” advice, which is usually along the lines of “Kill…kill…kill! C’mon, you know you want to!”
Earl Brooks has just been voted Portland’s “Man of the Year”. He’s an entrepreneur, and has made a fortune with his box-manufacturing business. He lives in a big swanky house, with his lovely wife Emma (Marg Helgenberger), while his daughter (Danielle Panabaker) is off at college. In his spare time, he likes to retreat to his custom made pottery studio to..um…potter. Now, as usual for horror fare, there is something sinister lurking beneath this calm surface. That sinister something is Marshall, and despite Earl’s attempts to keep him at bay, a nagging impulse to kill eats away at him. What makes this film interesting is the way Brooks’ relationship with Marshall is handled – it’s like a real addiction, Marshall never “takes control” of Brooks, this is no multiple personality disorder. Brooks remains completely responsible for his actions. So when after a little convincing from Marshall, Brooks murders a couple in the throes of passion, eliminating them with cold blooded bullets to the head after sneaking into their apartment (the way he overcame the door chain gave me shivers) we know this is Mr Brooks, not Marshall, ultimately responsible. I also love the way he has second thoughts, and goes to leave, but literally bumps into Marshall, who again eggs him on. It’s a wonderful visual metaphor for the way addiction stops you in your tracks.
After disposing of the lovers, Brooks realizes he’s made a mistake (“Perhaps I wanted to be caught…”) and left the drapes wide open. He quickly remedies this but it’s not too long before it’s made clear his act of homicide has been witnessed. Enter Mr Smith, played by Dane Cook (an actor I don’t care for – he has a face a bit like an orangutan – but I can put up with him here) a misguided young man who sends Brooks photos of himself closing the drapes. What initially seems to be a blackmail attempt turns into something far more twisted; Mr Smith is sickly fascinated with the act he witnessed. Instead of attempting to blackmail Brooks, he wants to go along on the next hit. Meanwhile, dogged detective Tracey Atwood (Demi Moore) is on the case.
They seem to have really gotten off on casting against type here, we have Demi playing the obsessed detective role, comedic actor Dane Cook as a serial killer wannabe, and Costner and Hurt playing decidedly different roles to what we’ve previously seen them in. And it was nice to see Reiko Aylesworth in another movie, albeit playing a bit of a slapper.
It becomes clearer as the film unfolds that Mr Brooks is more than a little unhinged: time seems to stand still as he has his little back and forth with Marshall, i.e. he talks to his alter ego out loud (to us, the viewers) yet the other characters in the room don’t notice. At first I thought this would be distracting, but director Bruce Evans handles it with skill (no flashy cuts or weird music cues to let us know we’re now in “Brooks’ head mode”, it’s all pretty rock solid) and it comes off less pretentious than in the hands of a lesser director.
This is a clever thriller played in a straightforward manner, thus avoiding the pitfalls into mediocrity that plague recent films of this type. Mr Brooks is a genuinely devoted family man with one hell of an addiction. It’s this devotion to family, and his struggle to rid himself of Marshall and his murderous influence, that makes you sympathize with Costner’s character even though you really shouldn’t. I mean, how often are we asked to sympathize with a character that murders innocents in cold blood? It’s rare, and here, Evans pulls it off remarkably well. The subplots involving Brooks’ daughter and Demi’s character do threaten to take it off on irreversible tangents at times, but it soon narrows its focus again. Although I found Demi’s character particularly confusing at certain times, in the end it coalesced and I realized what the writer was trying to do.
Mr Brooks is certainly not a great film, hell, it doesn’t even fire on all cylinders all the time, but by the end credit roll I found myself more than satisfied I’d just seen a well acted, well scripted thriller and certainly got my money’s worth.