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Mr. Brooks Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 April 2008
ImageKevin Costner stars as Mr. Earl Brooks who, as the movie opens, is being named Man of the Year in Portland, Oregon (though the film was shot in Shreveport, Louisiana).  He runs a very successful box company, has been happily married to Emma (Marg Helgenberger) for years, and has a teenage daughter, Jane (Danielle Panabaker of “Shark”), currently at college in Palo Alto.  But we soon learn that Brooks has a sardonic alter ego whom he calls Marshall (William Hurt), visible and audible to us and Mr. Brooks, but to no one else.

“The hunger has returned to Mr. Brooks’ brain,” an opening title tells us.  “It never really left.”  The hunger is an urge to kill, for Mr. Brooks is a serial killer working the Portland area; because he leaves behind the bloody thumbprints of his victims, he’s been dubbed “The Thumbprint Killer.”   He’s a meticulous killer; in the shop where his wife thinks he’s working on his ceramics hobby, he has a secret closet full of identical black clothes and heavy boots, which he dons when he goes out with his gun. He’s tried to give this up; he even attends 12-Step meetings (identifying himself only as “an addict”), and is currently successful in conquering his addiction: hasn’t killed anyone for two years.  But egged on by Marshall, he suits himself up, picks out a pair of likely targets, follows them home, entering their house silently while they’re making love.  He says hello, then shoots them dead—and ecstatically dances a moment in orgasmic release.  (A common trait of serial killers, who are basically sex murderers.)  But then he notices the bedroom window curtains were open.

Millionaire police detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore), a serial killer specialist, investigates, as usual finding nothing—Brooks even vacuums the rooms before he leaves, then takes the cleaner bag with him.  Atwood is going through a nasty divorce from her greedy husband (Jesse Vialo), the latest of several, but her focus is on the case.  Even when she learns an earlier killer (Matt Schulze) she sent up the river has escaped and is looking for her, she remains intent on tracking down The Thumbprint Killer.  (The deleted scenes deal mostly with Moore’s character, who has turned to male prostitutes for sex.  The scenes were well left out.)

Mr. Brooks has problems.  In his luxurious office, in his expensive clothes, Mr. Brooks is met by a man who identifies himself as “Smith” (Dane Cook)—and Mr. Smith has photos of Mr. Brooks in the recent murder room.  He’s an amateur photographer living across the street, and has been taking photos of that couple making love.  He just got lucky to photograph Mr. Brooks there.

No, he’s not going to turn Mr. Brooks over to the police.  Instead, he wants to accompany Brooks on his next murder mission.  He loved the rush of realizing he’d photographed a murder, and wants to get even closer to another one.  Despite the pleas of Marshall, Brooks has no choice but to agree.

From this point, things get very complicated; Jane unexpectedly comes home from college, explaining she’s dropping out and wants to start working for her father—but she may, as Marshall insists, be hiding the real reason she left school.  Atwood has to deal with her lawyer and her husband’s as well, in addition to retaining the trust of her supervisor (Lindsay Crouse).  Mr. Smith turns out to be Mr. Barford, and distinctly unreliable.  Then there’s that woman who’s following Atwood….

“Mr. Brooks” is a thriller for adults.  The screenplay, co-written by director Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon is intelligent, with sharp lines that display the characters effectively.  They’ve primarily only been writers until this film, with a couple of good films on their resumes—“Stand by Me” and “Starman,” for example—and a bunch that aren’t so good, like “Cutthroat Island” and “Kuffs.” 

The basic plot structure is decorated with lots of complications and twists, but keeps to the through line of what’s happening to Brooks, and what he’s going to do about it.  It’s a remarkably intelligent movie, with lots of unnerving elements, including frequent touches of comedy.  Brooks and Marshall often laugh simultaneously, which is distinctly creepy—but also funny.  Mr. Smith/Barford is so jazzed by the idea of actually hunting and killing someone that he gets frayed around the edges, turns petulant at inopportune moments, and isn’t as smart as he thinks he is.  Not good when you’re dealing with a murderer.

It’s well-photographed in moody, dark tones by John Lindley, with well-chosen production design by Jeffrey Beecroft.  I want to move into the Brooks family home tomorrow.  But the high definition on this Blu-ray disc doesn’t really add very much to the proceedings; it looks crisp and sharp, yes, but this kind of movie works just as well in low definition. 

Each step in the movie brings more complications, until it seems so tangled that it can’t be laid straight again.  Unfortunately, this makes the film slow down about 2/3 of the way through as you try to sort out the characters and understand their motivations.  And at 120 minutes, it’s simply too long.  Brooks first warns Barford, “If it turns out you enjoy killing, it can become very addictive.  It can ruin your life.”  This is one of several hints that for all his calm exterior, for all his careful planning of his murder ventures, for all the ecstasy killing brings him, Brooks is a deeply troubled man.  He occasionally mutters barely-heard prayers, including the Serenity Prayer of the 12-Step Programs.  He worries about his daughter, and, as a surprising scene near the end shows, he also fears her, for she has a power over him he’s been careful not to grant to anyone else.

Demi Moore’s single-minded detective isn’t as interesting as Brooks, and some elements seem pointless complications (she has a $60 million fortune?), but Moore hews to the line with intensity and conviction.  As played by Moore, the character is more believable than she probably was on the printed page.  (Did she become a detective because her name is Tracy?)

Barford/Smith is very well drawn; he’s a moderately smart guy who is bitterly convinced that his life should be better than it is, but he blames everyone else for his problems, never examining his own motives and abilities.  When Brooks suggests he find someone to kill, he immediately latches on to a driver who did nothing worse than to cut them off momentarily.  He goes into a rage so fierce he’s almost vibrating.  “I’ve always wanted to f*ing kill someone who f*ed with me in traffic,” he grates.  (Side note: you’d think that a character who lives in Oregon would know how to pronounce the name of the state, but Cook doesn’t.  Probably because the movie was shot in Louisiana.)

“Mr. Brooks” is that rare movie, a thriller primarily for adults—not that sex plays a major part.  The violence is brief and vivid, mostly shootings but there’s one slashed and one stabbed throat.  The characters are far more complex (and numerous) than in other such films these days, which are usually aimed squarely at the summer movie demographic—12 to 28.  Unusually, some of the weaknesses of the movie lie in its intelligence; Evans and Gideon bring in too many complications.  While the loose ends are tied up, they’re not all carefully explained.  You need to watch what’s going on—like why do we see a shot of an anonymous alley behind a hotel?  Why is Brooks in that alley a bit later?  Where did “Mr. Smith’s” belongings go, and why?  We are shown, not told, the answers to these and other questions, and one major question (why did Jane drop out of college?) is carefully left unanswered, at least in full.

It’s a handsome production, with another fine, understated performance by Kevin Costner—it’s interesting that this likeable actor can make himself so creepy in non-obvious ways.  And the scenes of him and his alter ego squabbling almost make the movie worth watching by themselves.

But the treatment of the film on this Blu-ray disc is strictly by the books.  The commentary track by Evans and Gideon is adequate, but tends to be tedious and therefore boring.  The same can be said of the various featurettes included as extras—they’re exactly what you expect such featurettes to be, nothing less and, unfortunately, nothing more.  As usual with deleted scenes, it’s all too obvious why they were cut; in an overplotted movie with a lot of characters, these scenes spent too much time on a basically secondary character.

However, the available trivia track is surprisingly well done.  It’s essentially a history of real-life serial killers presented in the form of bright red pop-up screens.  Almost all the usual names are there, and whoever prepared this material really did their research.

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