Tuesday 13 May 2008

Mr. Brooks (2007)

Tuesday 13 May 2008
Director: Bruce A. Evans
Writers: Bruce A. Evans & Raynold Gideon

Cast: Kevin Costner (Earl Brooks), William Hurt (Marshall), Demi Moore (Detective Tracy Atwood), Dane Cook (Mr Smith/Mr Bafford), 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 (Sheila), Matt Schulze (Thornton Meeks), Yasmine Delawari (Sunday) & Traci Dinwiddie (Sarah Leaves)

A family man with an addiction to murder is blackmailed into mentoring a man who's fascinated by his secret life...

Psycho found Norman Bates living in a motel knifing travellers, Texas Chain Saw Massacre's inbred family kept to themselves in a remote farmhouse, and Silence Of The Lambs' Hannibal Lecter was creepiest when caged. But these days, what with TVs Dexter Morgan masquerading as a forensics analyst and white-collar Mr. Brooks keeping up appearances at home, it seems serial-killers have moved in next door...

Kevin Costner eschews his all-American nice-guy persona to play the eponymous anti-hero (well, sympathetic villain) Earl Brooks. On the surface he's a business hotshot (he wins a company award in the opening scene) with a beautiful wife called Emma (CSI star Marg Helgenberger) and cute teenage daughter Jane (Danielle Panabaker). But he's actually a very disturbed man; a self-confessed addict whose drug of choice is murder. Mr. Brooks has been "straight" for a few years, but he's about to relapse – thanks to wormy hallucination Marshall (William Hurt), a devilish Jiminy Cricket tempting him to quench his thirst for death...

Mr. Brooks' life gets complicated when he's photographed at the scene of a crime-scene and finds himself hero-worshipped by the snapper – a sick-minded guy called Mr. Smith (Dane Cook), who wants to experience committing murder for himself. There's also tough-cookie Detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore), who's now on the trail of Mr. Brooks (a.k.a The Thumb-Print Killer) while going through a messy divorced. Oh, and she's also the target of revenge attacks by a killer she put in jail, but who's now free.

The biggest strength to Mr. Brooks is undoubtedly Costner's measured, intelligent, mesmerising turn as its title character. It's clearly a role designed to be the antithesis of his usual roles (Elliot Ness, Robin Hood, et al), and Costner clearly relishes the opportunity to bring some darkness to the screen. Hurt is also great fun as the pallid demon perched on Brooks' shoulder, reminding me of a sick-puppy schoolboy and prone to erupting into peals of chilling laughter. The film's best moments tend to involve the symbiotic relationship of Mr. Brooks and the inner-demon he's made "flesh".

The screenplay, by Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon, is broadly pretty good and certainly entertaining -- with enough twists and pace to keep you watching. However, the TV series Dexter has stolen some of the premise's thunder, so the ingenuity of Mr. Brooks makes less impact. There's also a crucial flaw that has its roots in the script: too many subplots and escalating silliness.

I'm not going to give the surprises in Mr. Brooks, but suffice to say that there are quite a few twists and revelations that, while definitely fun, quickly chip away at the film's plausibility. A subplot for Mr. Brooks' daughter Jane demands the biggest pinch of salt from audiences, but Detective Atwood is also given two largely pointless subplots that creak as they're forced to impinge on the central plot.

None of this should spoil your enjoyment too much, however. Costner manages to make Mr. Brooks sympathetic (despite the personality defect that he likes killing people), as you sense his genuine heartache over his monstrosity, and totally believe in his love for his family. He even decides it would be best if someone killed him, so he's not the usual psychopath in that respect.

Elsewhere, Demi Moore is convincing as a fiercely-determined city cop, and comedian Dane Cook (yes, the star of unfunny rom-com Good Luck Chuck) is actually pretty good as the bearded, anxious and immoral Mr. Smith. In fact, after a good performance in Dan In Real Life, maybe Cook should drop the comedy aspirations and move full-time into straight roles?

As a relatively low-budget independent film, Mr. Brooks is allowed to tell its story without too much interference or toning down. It's a shame Bruce A. Evans' direction isn't very cinematic, though – as this film often feels like the Pilot of a TV show. Indeed, if Dexter weren't already on the box, I suspect Mr. Brooks would be more at home on the small-screen and find the same audience. It might actually have helped if the film's clutter was spread across hours of television.

Mr. Brooks is apparently the first part of an intended trilogy and, while it certainly had some storytelling problems that made for a bumpy ride towards the end, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't curious to see what happens to Mr. Earl Brooks and his id "accomplice" Marshall...

Budget: $20 million
120 minutes