At The Picture Show
Splitting the bill
The cons cripple the pros in the schizophrenic 'Mr. Brooks'
Director: Bruce A. Evans
Screenplay: Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon
Starring: Kevin Costner, William Hurt, Marg Helgenberger, Demi Moore, Dane
Cook, Danielle Panabaker and Ruben Santiago-Hudson
Rated R / 2 hours
Opened June 22, 2007
(out of four)
I wonder if Mr. Brooks was cobbled together out of two completely separate
screenplays; because, like its titular character, the movie's personality is split in
On one hand, we have the driving force - the
psychological tug-of-war between the two halves of Mr. Brooks' psyche. His
successful businessman exterior (Kevin Costner) and his evil altar ego, Marshall
(William Hurt), always at his side, lurking in his shadow, whispering in his ear
about how much fun it would be to go and kill someone.
On the other hand, we have the clumsy subplot - a staple of Hollywood thrillers,
but rarely so clumsy as this one, a story about the detective (Demi Moore) hot on
Mr. Brooks' trail while struggling with an ongoing family crisis.
How one piece of a movie can be so compelling and smart, and the other so
excruciating, boring and dumb, is beyond me. The dual-screenplay theory is all
I've got. It's as if the central storyline wasn't quite enough for Whoever Makes
These Types of Decisions, so they decided to go the mindless route and give it the
old cop [out] subplot. I have no idea if this actually happened or not; maybe it all
came from one pure, original idea. But it seems oddly broken in two.
The way the two plots converge (as they
naturally must) isn't really essential to either one; it's just sort of convenient - and
probably, when you think about it, not even that convenient. Moving on . . .
Serial killers have long been a favorite subject in movies and TV. Most of the
time, we see them from the perspective of those who are chasing him (SE7EN, The
Silence of the Lambs) or from that of the people and/or communities he's
terrorizing (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween and all their imitators).
But every once in a while we actually see them from their own point - or, in the
case of Mr. Brooks, points - of view. But even in those cases, the objective is
often satire or dark comedy - think American Psycho or Natural Born Killers.
In Mr. Brooks, the events are treated with the care of a normal, suburban character
drama. Earl Brooks is the epitome of American success - he's a wealthy, well-respected entrepreneur with a doting wife (Marg Helgenberger), a daughter he
adores and more than enough money and assets to retire comfortably with. And he
hasn't killed anyone in years.
Until he finally cracks one night. Marshall -
played with delightful deadpan persuasion by Hurt - has been in his ear all night.
Think how much fun we'll have. And so he (they?) does it. He swears it's the last
time. A young couple; no one he knows personally. ("Never kill anyone you
know," he insists.) He knows the house, he knows how to get in and out. And in a
chillingly executed sequence, we see the methodical genius behind his killings.
You realize why he's never been caught. He's all too careful.
Except . . . remember when I said he hasn't done this a lot lately?
He makes one crucial mistake. He leaves the floor-to-ceiling windows partially
open. It's late at night, so he may not have noticed. But as convenience would
have it, an amateur photographer/scumbag (played surprisingly well, with anxious,
jittery energy, by comedian Dane Cook) was taking pictures of the couple that
night, as he often does when they're doing what they were doing. And so, using
the alias "Mr. Smith," he takes a few snapshots - with plenty more locked
somewhere safe, as protection - to Mr. Brooks as blackmail. He doesn't want
money. He doesn't even want Mr. Brooks in his pocket. He just wants to go with
Mr. Brooks when he does it again . . . he just wants to be along for the kill.
The film plays with the situation as if it were a
basic moral conflict. It almost comes across like one of those '90s Michael
Douglas movies where he was getting blackmailed for cheating on his wife or
something. But instead, it's to be or not to be . . . a serial killer. The film is subtly
captivating in the way it plays with Mr. Brooks' duality; Earl and Marshall play
off each other like old friends, or enemies, who know each other all too well. In
one early scene, when Marshall has been talking Earl's ear off trying to convince
him to do it one more time, the film almost had a superhero effect; Earl takes off
his glasses, a la Clark Kent, removing the exterior of his altar ego, and finally
All of that is so effective that the rest of the film isn't merely boring or
uninteresting - it's infuriating. It undermines the complexity and intelligence of
the rest of the movie. Detective Tracy Atwood (Moore) is dealing not only with
the murder of the young couple, but with another old case that is so stupidly
placed, and imposes itself so awkwardly on the plot, that it almost couldn't have
been part of the original idea for this movie. A clumsy subplot I can handle. But a
complete farce like this? It's inexcusable. It doesn't even seem like it's directed by
the same person.
Somebody owes Kevin Costner an apology - and William Hurt and Dane Cook
too, for that matter. Because they had a great thriller on their hands, and through
no fault of their own, it got ruined.
Read more by Chris Bellamy