If the homemade baseball stadium doesn’t work out, there’s always moonlighting as a serial killer. Academy Award winners Kevin Costner and William Hurt, Dane Cook and Demi Moore star in Mr. Brooks.
Cast of Characters:
Earl Brooks – Kevin Costner
Det. Tracy Atwood – Demi Moore
Mr. Smith – Dane Cook
Marshall – William Hurt
Emma Brooks – Marg Helgenberger
Det. Hawkins – Ruben Santiago-Hudson
Jane Brooks – Danielle Panabaker
Director – Bruce A. Evans
Screenplay – Bruce A. Evans & Raynold Gideon
Producer – Jim Wilson, Kevin Costner & Raynold Gideon
Rated R for strong bloody violence, some graphic sexual content, nudity and language
Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner) is a wealthy businessman who’s been recently honored by the Portland, Oregon Chamber of Commerce as “Man of the Year”. Underneath his success in the business world and seemingly idyllic life at home lies a dark secret: Brooks is a serial killer motivated to murder by his alter ego known as Marshall (William Hurt).
After what was planned to be a routine night out killing with Marshall leads to a loose end that attracts the attention of Det. Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore) and an opportunistic photographer who simply goes by “Mr. Smith” (Dane Cook), Brooks begins to realize what he once was in control of is starting to slip from his grasp.
Mr. Brooks is one of those films I can understand if people hate. It’s an intriguing premise that sometimes gets a little too ambitious with all the story turns and subplots thrown into the mix which are bound to either entertain you or have you rolling your eyes. Much like last week’s review, The Cell, this is a film where you either go along for the ride the premise offers or you don’t. It’s nowhere as visually imaginative as The Cell, but Mr. Brooks, while imperfect, is still a stylishly fascinating thriller.
Co-writer/director Bruce A. Evans has mostly carved out a career as a writer alongside his screenwriting partner Raynold Gideon. They’ve achieved great results before, writing John Carpenter’s Starman and Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me (for which they were both nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay). Mr. Brooks is only Evans’s second directorial effort, which is an improvement over his forgettable debut Kuffs with Christian Slater back in 1992. Evans hits a few speed bumps with the narrative, but is still able to create an effectively tense thriller that’s able to show the brutality of Mr. Brooks’s actions without devolving into gratuitous theatrics.
The film is at its strongest when it focuses on Brooks’s split personality, with Evans and Gideon opting to personify the title character’s darker nature in the form of William Hurt’s Marshall. The interaction between the two is fascinating, even darkly funny at times. Despite it all being inside Earl’s head, Evans sets up a time-freezing device to play their conversations together out, and wisely remains consistent in that aspect. Personifying the alter ego also allows for Earl to be a more sympathetic character, despite his heinous actions, as he struggles against Marshall, essentially the Devil on his shoulders, much like an addict battling their addiction (Earl attends an AA support group to control his urges, but refers to himself only as an “addict”). It’s not everyday we see a serial killer as the protagonist, but Evans allows it to work by making Marshall the villain. Both he and cinematographer John Lindey emphasize that by mostly capturing Hurt lurking in the corner enshrouded by dark shadows.
The one misstep Evans makes is with Demi Moore’s character, the cop tracking down Costner’s killer that could’ve matched wits with him, but is instead treated as a hard-edged cliche that Moore isn’t believable in portraying. While Moore’s wooden performance leaves little to be desired, it’s not so much the problem as the superfluous subplots involving her messy divorce and an escaped murderer she once brought down are. Both story threads, which serve as Det. Atwood’s backstory, provide no service to the overall story and come off as a distraction (particularly a frenetic shootout between her and the reunited killer that looks like strobe light frenzied Rob Zombie music video) to the more intriguing elements provided by Costner and Hurt’s split personality and Dane Cook’s skeevy peeping tom.
That said, this is still a thoroughly entertaining flick thanks to acting veterans Kevin Costner and William Hurt. A role like Earl Brooks might’ve overwhelmed Costner back during his early years in acting when his performance work was more rigid and stiff, but over the years he’s improved as an actor and he handles a tricky character like the one he plays here terrifically, giving one of his best performances. Having played the likeable everyman for most of his career, it’s no surprise that Costner goes all-in with a chance to play a tormented serial killer for once. It’s a complex role that allows for him to show off a darker side, but also bring a rooting interest to a type of character normally not worth rooting for.
As Earl’s devious alter ego, William Hurt is equally strong opposite Costner, clearly having a fun time as he chews his dialogue with twisted enthusiasm. The surprising standout amongst the cast is Dane Cook. While not a breakthrough performance or anything (although compared to the rest of his filmography, maybe it is), Cook handles himself quite well up against the veteran Costner. At times, it appears like he’s falling on his manic standup schtick, but as polarizing of a comic personality as he is (audiences either love him or hate him), Cook could’ve become very annoying with the viewers very quickly, but instead turns in a solid performance.
Although it stumbles a bit with a few unnecessary, tone-shifting subplots, Mr. Brooks still manages to be an engaging, stylishly directed thriller that effectively explores the duality of its title character, brought to life by two committed performances from Kevin Costner and William Hurt. It may not be perfect, but when the spotlight’s on Costner, Hurt and even Dane Cook, the film offers up some sinister entertainment that clicks on all cylinders.