Mr Brooks

Mr Brooks

***1/2

Reviewed by: Gary Duncan

First, a confession. I like Kevin Costner. There, I've said it. I don't mind that he's smug and vain and a little bit naff. I don't even mind his colossal ego or the fact that he always plays the same character, the decent guy trying to do the right thing against the odds - Eliot Ness in The Untouchables, John Dunbar in Dances With Wolves, Ray Kinsella in Field Of Dreams. Even when he does play a wrong 'un, like small-time hood Butch Haynes in A Perfect World, he's not that bad. A con with a conscience, rather than a real bad-ass.

Earl Brooks appears to fit the Costner mould. Earl's a nice guy, or so it seems. A loving husband, a good father, a successful businessman. He wears a bow tie. But Earl has a dirty little secret. Actually, it's a filthy, whopping big secret. Mild-manned Earl is a serial killer.

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Not just any old serial killer, though. He's also a victim, preyed on by his murderous alter ego Marshall (William Hurt). Marshall may be a figment of Earl's imagination - seen and heard only by Earl - but that doesn't mean they have to get along. It's an interesting set-up, and this is where the movie works best, with Earl and Marshall bickering and scheming and trying to outdo each other.

Earl knows he's a monster - that it's in his DNA, that he's hardwired to kill - but he still attends self-help groups in the hope that he can rein in Marshall and at least gain some level of self-control.

"My name's Earl," he says solemnly, "and I'm an addict."

Marshall thinks he's a wuss. He enjoys killing, and he makes no apology for it.

Hurt is on a roll at the moment, after scene-stealing cameos in The Good Shepherd and A History Of Violence, and he does it again here. Earl is scary, but he's a pussycat compared with Marshall, and Hurt plays it to the max, an evil presence lurking in the shadows, urging Earl to kill and kill again.

It's Costner's movie, however. Though he's never really been away, this still feels like a comeback of sorts, and hopefully a sign of what's to come. Here, with his ego firmly in check, he gives a master-class in understatement: he's never been the most expressive of actors, but that works to his advantage here as we watch Earl struggle to hold things together when his carefully constructed fa├žade begins to crumble. First, an opportunist eyewitness (Dane Cook) catches Earl in the act, and then he blackmails him into letting him tag along on his next kill. At the same time, high-flying cop Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore) is closing in on Earl, and Earl's daughter Jane (Danielle Panabaker) has quit college and announces she's moving back in with mom and pop. But there's more to Jane than meets the eye and, like father like daughter, she too has a few dirty little secrets of her own.

There's a lot of plot crammed into two hours, and a fair amount of backstory. That's never a bad thing, of course, and director Bruce Evans just about manages to bring everything together at the end, though the pace does dip in the last third as the competing storylines bump against each other. Perhaps Jane's sub-story could have been trimmed, and maybe Atwood's race to nail Earl before an escaped con gets to her is a diversion too many.

I also had a minor problem with some of the detail. We're led to believe that Earl is ultra-cautious, that no detail is too small, so why, having crept into his victim's apartment with all the stealth of the Milk Tray Man, does he then risk waking the entire neighbourhood by blowing the victim away with a howitzer of a handgun? Could he possibly have used anything louder or more attention-seeking? An anti-tank rocket, maybe? Has he never heard of a silencer?

Perhaps that's the point, that he's hoping to get caught and finally rid himself of Marshall, but that's at odds with everything that's gone before.

Minor quibble aside, this is still a thoughtful and engaging piece. It might not be as clever as it thinks it is, but at least it tries.

And I don't mind saying it again: I still like Kevin Costner.

Reviewed on: 07 Aug 2007
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A glimpse into the life of a serial killer who must struggle against his alter ego as he attempts to quit.
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Director: Bruce A Evans

Writer: Bruce A Evans, Raynold Gideon

Starring: Kevin Costner, Demi Moore, William Hurt, Dane Cook, Danielle Panabaker, Marg Helgenberger, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Aisha Hinds, Lindsay Crouse

Year: 2007

Runtime: 120 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

Festivals:

Frightfest 2007

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