Posted: 06/07/2007


Mr. Brooks


by Del Harvey

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Unlike half the reviews I’ve read, I really enjoyed this film.  Yes, there were a handful of plot contrivances but, you know what?  I didn’t care.  And neither did almost all the people in the packed theatre when I saw this film.  In fact, several people were commenting on how good the film was to the people around them immediately following the film. 

Here’s the nickel version of the plot: The very likeable Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner) is a loving family man and a local business icon who is getting the “Businessman of the Year” award as the film kicks off. But soon we discover our Mr. Brooks is deeply flawed – he has an addition to killing. Oh, but he struggles, a bit, with his pathology. 

He does try to quit, but his alter-ego, “Marshall” (William Hurt), keeps giving him reasons why he shouldn’t. “Marshall” enjoys his “existence” and his “work.” After taking another pair of lives simply for the joy of it, local and tenacious Detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore), also battling with her ex-husband and her own demons, is extremely frustrated at the lack of clues left at the scene by the mysterious “thumbprint” killer. When Brooks is compelled to perform at least one last murder in order to save his family, and despite very strong reservations, he delivers the goods with his trademark ritualistic style. With the dogged Detective Atwood on his trail, Mr. Brooks and “Marshall” are forced to play out an increasingly elaborate game.

I’ve read some pretty negative reviews which describe Ms. Moore’s performance as “wooden.”  I’m here to tell you nothing could be further from the truth.  I was so happy to see her in the tough-girl heroine role, it made me realize how wimpy the latest batch of would-be heroines are, and I’m speaking of women like Uma Thurman and Julianne Moore.  They’re both fine actresses, but neither one is capable of pulling off tough and disgruntled like Moore.

And I have read those nasty reviews which describe Costner’s acting as “inane” and “mind-numbing.”  Nothing could be further from the truth.  After his debut in Silverado, I dismissed him as something less than a thespian, but narrowly ranking above pond scum.  Beginning with his very fine work in Clint Eastwood’s A Perfect World, and continuing through films like The Upside of Anger, Rumor Has It, and others, Costner has continued to not only mature as an actor, but to add subtext to his performances.  Subtle nuance have replaced callous confidence.  And in Mr. Brooks he shines.  There was a time when William Hurt would have automatically been given the “good” role, and Costner the role of the “bad” character.  But in this film, Costner ably portrays a loving father and a homicidal maniac, and pulls it off rather neatly.

William Hurt is superb as the deadly-to-the-core Marshall.  There are several scenes where Hurt and Costner are riding around in a car, and as they hear or see something, they turn their heads in choreographed unison.  A very nice touch which helps imprint the concept that they are two halves of the same whole.

Where most people seem to have difficulty with this story, as a whole, is in buying into a character who can, by all outward appearances, be sane and normal and decent.  But isn’t that the story of the typical serial killer?  Zodiac worked in a hardware store.  John Wayne Gacy was a salesman and an honorary policeman.

While several ends are left loose, these omissions seem more like minor issues which are easily ignored than huge distractions.  In fact, several of these were not even obvious until after the film was over, and I’d had time to think about them.  I don’t think that’s the sign of a bad film.  The way most of the audience was jumping and ooohing and aaahing during several scenes leads me to believe otherwise.

Writing partners Bruce A. Evens and Raynold Gideon did a very fine job with a very difficult topic, and pulled it off pretty neatly.  The suspense thriller is one of the most difficult films to pull off, but they manage, thanks to their script and Mr. Evans’ work as director.  And thanks to some excellent performances from a top-notch cast.

So, don’t believe everything you read.  Go see Mr. Brooks and see if he doesn’t get under your skin, too.

Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly. He teaches screenwriting and makes films in Chicago.

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