A voice gnaws at the back of Mr. Brooks'
head. It's a hunger, sweet and insistent, and stopping for
an ice cream really won't quell it. Disturbingly enough,
it takes the form of William Hurt, smiling and whispering
more tenderly than he did in Kiss of the Spider-Woman.
In a strange way, it even seems reasonable.
So something starts gnawing at the back
of our heads, and it's a little more familiar for movie-goers:
old-fashioned dread. Like its title character played by
Kevin Costner, Mr. Brooks may seem a little out of
step with the times. As much character study as thriller,
the film shows restraint. Despite the presence of Dane Cook,
it also shows wit and elegance. We have an unexpectedly
intelligent horror film on our hands.
Director Bruce A. Evans wastes little time
in establishing his plot, even opening with a title card
explaining his protagonist's conundrum. If not for the sudden
appearance of Earl Brooks' twisted Jiminy Cricket Marshall
(Hurt), you might think this would be the success story
of an alcoholic, battling his inner demons. Except that
Brooks' inner demon turns him into the Thumbprint Killer,
who has been out of the public eye for two years, but had
a good reign of terror in Portland for years.
By day Earl runs a box company. He's a
respected member of the community with a loving wife (Marg
Helgenberger) and a somewhat troubled daughter (Danielle
Panabaker) off at Stanford. Even after attending an AA meeting,
though, he just can't fight those urges. Things only get
worse when an amateur photographer (Cook) witnesses a killing
and wants more.
Everything about this film stays marvelously
low-key. By the nature of his subject matter, Evans has
to show some gore, but it never feels gratuitous, and it's
really not much worse than most PG-13 movies. The R rating
has to come from the disturbing sympathy we feel for Brooks'
plight. He really is a nice guy. He really wants to be better.
And he really, really gets off on killing.
After years of bouncing around on reputation,
everyman Costner rises back to the promise of his acting.
When living his normal life, Earl speaks in a subtly strangled
tone, quickly playing through conversations in his head
to make sure he's giving nothing away (as addicts often
do), especially trying to avoid betraying Marshall's presence.
Then he can cut loose at night as the Thumbprint
Killer, and all of Costner's easygoing charm spills out.
Both sides are seductive, and they play well off of the
nervous energy of Cook. Without that charm to force Cook
to calm down, the comedian would be insufferable.
Of course, a killer like Mr. Brooks needs
a worthy antagonist, and she comes in the form of Detective
Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore). Smart, focused and independently
wealthy, Atwood does the job because she believes in it.
And Brooks finds that fascinating, much to Marshall's dismay.
Watching Mr. Brooks may make you
feel very unsafe. Cinematographer John Lindley shoots everything
in a very muted, mundane fashion. Even a naked Brooks in
front of his burning kiln looks somehow normal. If that's
normal, then there may be more than one Brooks out there.
We can hope there's a Detective Atwood
as well. This role makes a much better return to the screen
for Moore than Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. Finally,
she can balance the steely side of her persona with her
talent and drive the character through. Of course, we don't
quite want her to win.
several interviews, Costner has made noise about this being
a trilogy. The most unsettling thing about Mr. Brooks
perhaps is that it so naturally lends itself to that. Costner
found himself a late-career franchise in the most unlikely
of ways, playing against type and playing with great intelligence.