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MR. BROOKS

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Kevin Costner, Demi Moore, Dane Cook, William Hurt, Marg Helgenberger, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Danielle Panabaker
Director: Bruce A. Evans
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: MGM
Features: See Review
Length: 120 Minutes
Release Date: October 23, 2007

“Why do you fight it so hard, Earl?”

Film ****

This year has had it share of cinematic surprises, in that a good many of the more highly anticipated blockbusters were somewhat disappointing. But there has also been a unique movie surprise every few months that really took me by surprise. Topping that list for the year would be brutally effective thriller, Mr. Brooks.

After first seeing the trailer, I had a feeling it was going to be in the slightest a very entertaining thriller. What I didn’t expect is for it to be a wholly original and tension filled powerhouse that it ended up being. For once, the trailer did a great job at NOT revealing everything, and for a thriller, that’s very much a good thing.

And when I took into account that I have seen just about every commercial serial killer thriller of the past decade, it made me realize even more just how brilliant the film is. Mr. Brooks seems to strip every convention of the serial killer genre and present things in a bold new way. Plus, unlike many of the serial killer movies, the screenplay is totally original and not based on a best selling novel.

One look at Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner), and all you’d be able to see is that of a classic American success story. Both a devoted businessman and loving family man, Earl has everything the average person dreams to have. What’s more, he has been voted as Portland’s Man of the Year by the city’s chamber of commerce.

But Earl possesses a secret hobby that you would never guess in a billion years. It turns out he harbors a murderous side and suits up every so often to select a random target at night. Earl’s murderous thoughts are represented by his alter ego named Marshall (William Hurt).

After his award banquet, Marshall appears before Earl in the back seat of his car and starts taunting him as he drives his wife home. Marshall feels it’s been too long since Earl indulged in his killing sport, and Marshall knows he wants to do it more than ever. After being nagged by his devilish personality, Earl agrees to stake out and eventually kill a lustful couple, the very targets Marshall has requested.

Earl succeeds in fulfilling Marshall’s request, carefully breaking into the couple’s apartment and executing the couple right in their bed. What Earl doesn’t expect to find is that window was not blinded, meaning that he could’ve easily been seen by someone. At any case, Earl cleans up his tracks and once done, vows to never let his killer side dominate him again.

However, Earl’s worst fear becomes a reality when the following day, a man calling himself Mr. Smith (Dane Cook), shows up at the man’s business with photos of him doing the dirty deed, identifying him as The Thumbprint Killer, the title given by the police and press. And in an interesting twist, Smith blackmails Earl by asking that he accompany him on his next night of killing. If Earl doesn’t agree, the pictures will be sent to the cops.

The movie also takes time to focus on the detective investigating the murder, Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore). She’s in the midst of an ugly divorce, as well as being pressured into tracking down another mass murderer terrorizing the city. If it sounds like a subplot that drags away from the story at hand, just give it time because, trust me, all things will tie up in the end.

For Kevin Costner, who I’ve always felt has gotten slammed by critics more than he’s ever deserved, this performance is a crowning achievement, and I’ve commended him on many performances in the past. Costner is usually known to the masses as playing the heroic, all-American good guy, but I’ve always found him to be much stronger when he’s cast against type as characters with darker personalities. That was the case in such films as Revenge, A Perfect World and 3000 Miles to Graceland, and not only is it best examined in this film, but for my money this may just be Costner’s finest screen performance to date!

There’s a scene, midway in the film, where Earl discovers a horrific possibility involving a loved one. It is in this particular scene that Costner reveals a side of himself I’ve never seen before in terms of pure emotion. It simply has to be seen to be appreciated.

Added to Costner, you have William Hurt as his slithering best as Earl’s evil personality. And how the movie handles the dynamic between the two is a stroke of genius. Costner and Hurt share a great deal of time on screen together, as Earl has countless conversations with his alter ego as he appears before him. Their surroundings freeze at times so that Earl can consult Marshall about how to handle a situation, such as the scene where he is blackmailed right in his place of business. It’s one of the many bold strokes of originality that make the movie one of a kind.

Another surprise in the movie is the serious turn from comedian Dane Cook. I’ve long been a fan of Cook’s stand up work, and for a comic just now getting a jump start on his movie career it might seem a little too soon to take on a more serious role. But Cook surprises and delivers a most effective performance as a sleaze ball who is convinced that he has the upper hand in his blackmailing scheme.

Lastly, I must also mention that Demi Moore delivers what is unquestionably her best on-screen work in a long time. Moore has always been a good, talented actress who over the years just managed to get cast in the wrong movies. But here, she delivers top-notch work here that I’d say is her best performance since Disclosure.

As far as thrillers go, none have provided the overall satisfying quality that Mr. Brooks has delivered. From beginning to end, the tension only increases and never lets up for a second. The inventiveness of the story combined with the highly effective acting from Kevin Costner and the rest of the cast and the tight directing of Bruce A. Evans combine to make one of the year’s truly best entertainments.

Video ***1/2

An overall strong presentation from MGM. The anamorphic picture delivers in accompanying the nice visual atmosphere provided by cinematographer John Lindley. The overall picture quality is very much as clean and crisp as you could ask for, though a hint or two of slight image fuzz keep this being at a higher rating. Nonetheless, a most exceptional presentation.

Audio ****

The 5.1 mix, in both Dolby and especially DTS, is nothing short of stunning, as the film’s sound quality seems to grab the viewer with its force right to the very end. The creepily effective music score, mixed with the multiple scenes of suspense make for one intense sounding experience. And there are even some moments that will make you jump in your seat, thanks again to the incredible job provided by the audio. Well done all the way!

Features ***1/2

This MGM release delivers some very nice bonuses. We get a commentary track with director/co-writer Bruce A. Evans and co-writer Raynold Gideon, six Deleted Scenes, three well handled featurettes; “The Birth of a Serial Killer: The Writing of Mr. Brooks”, “On the Set of Mr. Brooks”, and “Murder on Their Minds: Mr. Brooks, Marshall and Mr. Smith”. Lastly, there is the Theatrical Trailer and several trailers for additional MGM titles.

Summary:

There are traditional serial killer movies, and there’s something that cuts above the genre like Mr. Brooks. Both a fantastic thriller and a deeply involving character study, the film draws you in and never lets go. It’s one of the year’s most amazing entertainments, and represents Kevin Costner’s finest hour on film yet!

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