Mr. Brooks is that uncommon celluloid specimen that succeeds not only as a thriller, but as a biting black comedy. That this mix stays involving for its full runtime is a true rarity, but the screenplay, by director Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon, manages to stay a step or two ahead of the audience, and never fails to dazzle psychologically and emotionally. It almost feels like a throwback to the thrillers for adults from the early-to-mid 90’s, cast and all.
Earl Brooks (Costner) is a wealthy businessman who has a loving wife, Emma (Helgenberger), and daughter, Jane (Danielle Panabaker). Brooks has just won “Man of the Year” for his contributions to society, but he has a much hidden secret that he has been effectively covering up for years: he is a serial killer. Known as “The Thumbprint Killer,” Brooks is addicted to killing complete strangers, guided by his alter-ego, Marshall (Hurt). One day Brooks is approached by Mr. Smith (Cook), a man who has pictures of Brooks committing a murder. Rather than turn him in, Smith blackmails him. It just so happens that Smith got a rush from watching the killings, and wants to come along on Brooks’ next spree. Detective Tracy Atwood (Moore) has been tracking “The Thumbprint Killer” for years, and all of their paths are about to cross.
Initially establishing itself as a psychological thriller, Mr. Brooks morphs into a cunning black comedy about halfway through, when Smith joins the fracas in an attempt to nab himself a kill. Usually when movies make gear shifts like this they fall apart, but Mr. Brooks remains intelligent and suspenseful. The screenplay explains just enough about Brooks’ condition that we go along with it, and the suspense sears as Brooks covers his tracks, confronts Marshall, and weighs the consequences of his condition possibly being hereditary.
Mr. Brooks really only missteps when it tries to be too stylish, as evidenced in a shootout sequence set to techno music that seems completely out of place. The subplot involving Detective Atwood slows things down at times due to the fact that the audience is always ahead of her, but always behind Brooks.
Kevin Costner turns in his best performance of the past decade, portraying Brooks as an actual human being rather than an unstoppable monster. As bizarre as it sounds, he is a sympathetic figure. William Hurt steals the show playing opposite. Hurt has always been the go-to guy for pitch black comedy (his ten minutes in A History of Violence earned him an Oscar nomination) and here he is given a full loaf of bread – and he chews it all up. His delivery is spot-on and he completely sells the idea of a tinge of humor involved in nearly everything that unfolds. Dane Cook, who could have been pegged “Miscast of the Year” in anything other than a dumb comedy, is right for the part as the testy, ADD-ridden Smith. He wants to understand Brooks, but doesn’t have the patience for it. This on-and-off banter makes for some excellent sequences.
While not your traditional summer film in any respect, Mr. Brooks deserves the attention of anyone in the mood for fare other than sequels, remakes, and superhero films. There is an actual brain at work here, and it feels refreshing.
Length: 120 Minutes
Rating: R for strong bloody violence, some graphic sexual content, nudity and language.
Theatrical Release: June 1, 2007
Directed by: Bruce A. Evans
Written by: Bruce A. Evans & Raynold Gideon.
Cast: Kevin Costner, Demi Moore, Dane Cook, William Hurt, Marg Helgenberger, Ruben Santiago-Hudson