Director – Bruce A. Evans, Screenplay – Bruce A. Evans & Raynold Gideon, Producers – Kevin Costner, Raynold Gideon & Jim Wilson, Photography – John Lindley, Music – Ramin Djawadi, Visual Effects Supervisor – Patrick McClung, Visual Effects – Sway Studios, Special Effects Supervisor – Jack Lynch, Prosthetic Effects – Stick & Stones, Production Design – Jeffrey Beecroft. Production Company – Element Films/Relativity Media/Eden Rock Media/Tig Productions
Kevin Costner (Earl Brooks), Demi Moore (Detective Tracy Atwood), Dane Cook (Mr Smith/Bafford), William Hurt (Marshall), Danielle Panabaker (Jane Brooks), Marg Helgenberger (Emma Brooks), Lindsay Crouse (Captain Lister), Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Hawkins), Aisha Hinds (Nancy Hart), Jason Lewis (Jesse Vialo), Reiko Aylesworth (Sheila), Yasmine Delawari (Sunday), Matt Schulze (Thornton Meeks)
Earl Brooks is a highly successful businessman in Portland, Oregon with a loving wife and teenage daughter. Mr Brooks also has a dark side as a serial killer known as Thumbprint Killer. He, in conjunction with his alter ego Marshall, likes to carefully select victims, enter their homes and shoot them, leaving their bodies arranged in a pose. Mr Brooks has been struggling against his urge for the last two years and finally surrenders to Marshall. After the latest killing, a man who identifies himself only as Mr Smith turns up at Mr Brooks’ office, having taken photos from the apartment opposite that show Mr Brooks at the crime scene. Smith does not want to go to the police and instead tells Mr Brooks that he wants to come along and watch the next killing. Mr Brooks reluctantly agrees to take Smith with him. Meanwhile, detective Tracy Atwood doggedly pursues the trail of the Thumbprint Killer, following her own hunches in defiance of departmental orders. At the same time, she is engaged in a bitter divorce with her husband who wants a cut of the millions she is heir to. Meanwhile, Mr Brooks’ daughter Jane abruptly comes home from university in Palo Alto, saying she did not feel at home there. As Mr Brooks uncovers however, she is implicated in a murder.
Mr. Brooks is a serial killer film. It did not do much in terms of box-office success when released. One suspects that it will gain increasing recognition as time goes on. The serial killer genre has become creatively overworked in the last decade but directing and writing team of Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon approach the story with a high degree of originality that makes for a unique and striking effort.
It is not hard to make comparisons between Mr. Brooks and The Silence of the Lambs (1991) – indeed, Demi Moore is fairly much transplanted into a Jodie Foster role (all that is missing is the psychological games that go on between she and the killer). In contrast to The Silence of the Lambs, where Hannibal Lecter is regarded as a figure of grotesquerie, Mr. Brooks regards its serial killer with a great deal of sympathy and makes him the nominal hero of the story. There are a minor body of antecedents to this – the fine The Minus Man (1999) with Owen Wilson as a sympathetic killer and the tv series Dexter (2006-13), which has a serial killer as hero. Evans and Gideon place us inside Mr Brooks’ head, showing us the cool methodology with which he plots out his kills, the pleasure that he discovers in the act and the struggle against his own desires – we even see him visiting an AA support group at one point.
Mr. Brooks comes from the writing team of Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon. Evans and Gideon found their strength during the 1980s with scripts for John Carpenter’s Starman (1984), the enormously acclaimed Stephen King adaptation Stand By Me (1986) and the little-seen but not too bad afterlife fantasy Made in Heaven (1987). The 1990s and 00s were less kind to Evans and Gideon. There was the Christian Slater cop comedy Kuffs (1992) where Evans made his directorial debut but this failed to attract much attention possibly due to the lameness of the title. Elsewhere the duo, aside from much script doctoring work, only turned out the disastrous CutThroat Island (1995) and the comedy Jungle 2 Jungle (2003).
Gideon and Evans’ writing here has an amazingly sophisticated cool to it. There is a beautiful darkness to the way they draw us inside Mr Brooks’ head, none the more so than the contrasts between the calm of businessman Kevin Costner’s life and the emergence of the malevolent alter ego that we see in the opening scenes. They have written an exceptional plot, one where they keep all the elements – Mr Brooks and the diabolical Marshall, Mr Smith’s blackmail, investigating detective Demi Moore and her divorce problems, Brooks’ daughter Jane and her implication in a murder – juggling in the air. Credibility might stretch slightly at times – like millionaire Demi Moore choosing to work as a detective as some kind of occupational therapy – but Evans and Gideon keeps these elements delicately weaving in and around one another with considerable elegance and produce a number of deft surprises. It is one of the best original screenplays written for the screen that one has seen in some time. Equally, Bruce A. Evans’ direction has a nicely subdued quietude – this is not a film that gets its effect out of big, dramatic fireworks but in subtly quiet moments.
Mr. Brooks is also a surprisingly dark turn for Kevin Costner. Costner is an actor who rode a rising star in the late 1980s, gaining a leading man profile in films like The Untouchables (1987), No Way Out (1987) and the masterfully underrated Bull Durham (1988). Costner’s star was consolidated with hits like Field of Dreams (1989), JFK (1991), Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves (1991), The Bodyguard (1992) and of course his dual acting-directing combination of the Native American-friendly Western Dances With Wolves (1990), which netted him a Best Directing Academy Award. At the same time, Costner was being given accolades like The Sexiest Man in the World and so on. Alas by the mid-90s, Costner’s star was starting to fade with less than stellar successes of the great A Perfect World (1993), Wyatt Earp (1994) and in particular the massively over-budgeted flop of Waterworld (1995), which was for a time the costliest film in the world, while his second directorial outing The Postman (1997) was widely ridiculed and his third, the Western Open Range (2003), was hardly seen by anybody. At some point during the 1990s, the general perception of Costner began to move from handsome everyman to that of big-headed celebrity. Kevin Costner’s films of the late 1990s onwards have failed to be reach the heights of even his mid-90s work, while most of the roles he has taken in recent years – For the Love of the Game (1999), The Guardian (2006), Mr. Brooks and Man of Steel (2013) – have usually cast him in middle-aged roles rather than as a leading man sex symbol.
Kevin Costner will probably not ever be able to convince the world that he is a great actor. Like John Wayne, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, Costner is an actor who essays a single persona rather than adopts roles and challenges himself. If it is not quite a chameleon-like piece of character acting, Mr. Brooks is at least a change of pace that contains a considerable darkening of the Costner persona. There is something wonderfully cool and deliberated about the performance that Costner gives. Also excellent is William Hurt who was once a serious awards-worthy actor but has for a decade established himself as one of the dullest actors in the world. At least Mr. Brooks allows William Hurt the opportunity to play something dark and menacing – there is a real kick to seeing him chuckling evilly in the backseat of the car for the first time. There is another fine performance from Dane Cook, previously a comedian, as the increasingly unlikeable Mr Smith.
Gideon and Evans purportedly intended Mr. Brooks as the first in a trilogy of films and Kevin Costner is said to have signed up to the idea. Quite whether the medium box-office performance of Mr. Brooks will allow us to see the other two films remains to be seen. All that one can say is that they would greet the idea with considerable anticipation.