Director : Bruce A. Evans
Screenplay : Bruce A. Evans & Raynold Gideon
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2007
Stars : Kevin Costner (Earl Brooks, Demi Moore (Detective Tracy Atwood), Dane Cook (Mr. Smith), William Hurt (Marshall), Marg Helgenberger (Emma Brooks), Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Hawkins), Danielle Panabaker (Jane Brooks), Aisha Hinds (Nancy Hart), Lindsay Crouse (Captain Lister), Jason Lewis (Jesse Vialo), Reiko Aylesworth (Jesse's Lawyer)
With no shortage of serial killer thrillers preceding it, Mr. Brooks is alternately intriguing and ridiculous in its attempts to inject new blood into a genre that has, at this point, almost been done to death. Director Bruce A. Evans, whose previous and only directorial credit is the 1992 Christian Slater action-comedy Kuffs, approaches the material with straight-faced earnestness, and while he does generate some effectively moody atmosphere, he also has a tendency to mistake overinflated style for pulse-pounding intensity. He and his coscreenwriter Raynold Gideon also pack their narrative with so many vaguely intersecting subplots that the film is constantly in danger of losing what little focus it has.
The eponymous antihero, played with convincingly cold conviction by Kevin Costner (who also coproduced the film), is an upright husband, father, and successful businessman--so successful, in fact, that we first meet him at a black-tie affair in which he is being named Portland's Businessman of the Year. However, while his wife (Marg Helgenberger) sleeps soundly upstairs in their modernist glass mansion, Mr. Brooks is heeding the call of his demented inner voice, who takes the form of William Hurt and goes by the name of Marshall. Marshall tells Mr. Brooks to kill, and even though he has resisted the call for two years, he finally gives in and resumes his nocturnal duties as “The Thumbprint Killer,” a meticulous serial killer who assassinates couples and then arranges their bodies in artistically romantic poses. Why? No one knows--that is just one of the many oddities in the film that is never explained.
Unfortunately for him, Mr. Brooks isn't quite meticulous enough, and as a result he is captured on camera doing the deed by a young man who calls himself Mr. Smith (Dane Cook). Formerly just a peeping tom, Smith uses the photos to blackmail Mr. Brooks into taking him along on his next killing; he wants to feel the rush of murder up close. Meanwhile, Mr. Brooks is also being pursued by a determined police detective named Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore), who has her own set of troubles: Not only is she in the middle of a nasty divorce with a younger man trying to get her inherited millions, but a recently escaped serial killer called The Hangman whom she put in jail may be stalking her. Piled on top of all that is the recent return of Mr. Brooks' babyface daughter, Jane (Danielle Panabaker), who has dropped out of her freshman year at college for reasons that Mr. Brooks (or, rather, Marshall) suspects she's not telling him about.
Surprisingly, the film manages to juggle all these plot elements without letting any one of them fly completely out of control, but they also detract from any sense of real cohesiveness. Mr. Brooks is certainly fascinating in its ambitions, but it often feels scattershot and unformed, as if the filmmakers hadn't completely thought through all their ideas yet. They rely too much on audience forgiveness, particularly when it comes to Mr. Brooks' nighttime excursions into the city, which he can manage only because his imminently understanding wife assumes he is down in his ceramics workshop fiddling with glazes (the kiln does make for a convenient means of disposing of evidence, though).
Nevertheless, Mr. Brooks is certainly an intriguing creation. Costner has been successful in playing sympathetically with the dark side before in Clint Eastwood excellent and underseen A Perfect World (1993), and he does a fine job of using his previously established likability to anchor his tormented serial killer. Murmuring the serenity prayer and arguing with Marshall, Costner makes it clear that his Mr. Brooks is not a remorseless killing machine, but rather a sick individual with an addiction he can't quite kick (as the voice of that addiction, William Hurt is appropriately nasty, yet compelling, although he would have been more effective if he had been kept him largely off-screen or visually fragmented). In suggesting that the nature of Mr. Brooks' lethal addiction is genetic, the film attempts to add a tragic gravitas to the character, which is unfortunately diluted, rather than enhanced by, all those tangled subplots.
Copyright ©2007 James Kendrick
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All images copyright ©2007 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer