Mr Brooks

dir: Bruce A. Adams
[img_assist|nid=771|title=These guys are smart. Serial killer smart|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=301]
How smart are you? I mean, obviously you’re reasonably smart, since you’re reading one of my reviews. But how smart are you, you super genius Poindexter?

Sure, you’re smart, but are you serial killer smart? Are you as brilliant as the serial killers Hollywood routinely serves up to us, the duped masses, on a regular basis? It’s unlikely, I would say, that any of us is that smart. It’s even more possible that no-one is that smart in reality that isn’t strapped into a chair, using a computer voice synthesiser to communicate with the rest of the world.

Stephen Hawking would be the ultimate serial killer, you’d have to think, based on flicks like the Hannibal Lecter franchise, and this here nasty, clever flick Mr Brooks. Hawking grasps the structure and infinite complexity of the universe like few others can, and, if he’d had better luck in the physical genetic stakes, would probably be stalking the globe with a bloody knife in his hand and a trail of bodies behind him.

Who knows, maybe he’s lulled us all into a false sense of security, and has been killing homeless people and prostitutes for decades by running them over with his modified wheelchair. I try to learn as much as I can about the world around me from movies, and as such I can barely believe anything opposing the idea that serial killers are the smartest people in the universe, and vice versa.

The Mr Brooks of the title is oh so smart. He is so much smarter than you, and all the smart people you might know multiplied by like a bazillion. He knows everything, predicts everything and could probably beat you at chess before you make your first move. He’s that smart.

He is a successful businessman, devoted husband and father and overall upstanding pillar of the community. He’s even been voted this year’s Man of the Year in his home city of Portland, Oregon.

But Earl Brooks, surprisingly well played by Kevin Costner, is so much more than just a supergenius tube of wonderful. He’s also a man who loves to murder people. He doesn’t just love it, he craves it. He’s addicted to killing people. Nothing hits the spot like a spot of murder, and he is a meticulous, methodical and merciless practitioner of the art.

It is no coincidence that his business empire is based on the manufacture of boxes, because his ability to separate his addiction from his regular life is vital to his continued existence. He genuinely seems to love his wife (Marg Helgenberger) and daughter (Danielle Panabaker), and desperately hopes they’ll never find out about his kooky hobby. The part of himself that craves the butchery of humans needs to be compartmentalised, boxed up if you will, until he finds the right time, or finds resistance futile any longer, and needs to let it out.

That part of his personality seems to have Tyler Durdened, if you will, and appears visually to him as a separate but connected part of his personality. Marshall (William Hurt) is an even more brilliant and frightening persona. It is he who goads Earl on to his next kill, even after two years of abstention; the whispering maniac in his ear who convinces him that there’s no good reason to not give in to the urges. He mocks, sweet talks, manipulates, threatens and cajoles Earl into doing what Earl would rather not do, most of the time. He knows Earl, paradoxically, better than Earl knows himself.

Even more importantly, he observes and analyses events, occasions and people in a far colder and far more perceptive manner than Earl himself. There’s no confusion here on Earl’s part: he doesn’t think Marshall is some other person or entity, he knows Marshall is part of himself. But Earl is so self-aware, and so complicated a persona that some aspects of his self does things completely contrary to his own interests, no matter how calmly rational he is at all times.

The scenes between Earl and Marshall are the absolute highlights of the film. Only one of these chaps is a great actor (I’ll leave you to be the judge as to who wears the pants), but their interplay and their complex relationship elevate this flick to a higher level. At the very least it accords the flick a higher status than most of the generic serial killer crap that’s excreted by Hollywood each year.

Earl is, much of the time, an oddly sympathetic character. He kills out of compulsion, rarely out of necessity, but it’s something that, in his reflective moments, he wishes he could stop doing. He even goes to AA meetings and repeats the recovering addict’s mantra like a prayer to stop himself from giving in. Maybe all the spiffy bowties he wears are a similar cry for help.

To the police and the media he is known as the Thumbprint Killer because of his crime scene signature, and he is well remembered and still pursued two years after his last kill despite practically being a ghost. As the film starts we see him giving in to Marshall’s seduction, where he makes a crucial mistake exposing himself to potential capture. His every other crime has been virtually undetectable due to his methodical modus operandi, but someone has seen him this time.

A neighbour to the couple lucky enough to make Earl’s hitlist catches him in the act, with photographic evidence no less, and wants to connect with the man he gleans is the famed serial killer. Earl calls this groupie Mr Smith (Dane Cook), and suffers his advances because he wants to protect himself from the cops and, also, because he ultimately doesn’t see Mr Smith, who is a sweaty moron, as much of a threat. Both Earl and Marshall have his number right from the start, and their combined gargantuan intellect means there’s little Smith can think of that they can’t figure out in advance.

Smith doesn’t want money, or revenge. He wants Earl to take him with him the next time he kills, because he wants to get the rush first hand. Earl thus has to humour him until such time as he can defuse the risk he represents.

Amidst all this, Earl faces trials and tribulations at home as well. His daughter Jane has returned unexpectedly from university, and is cagey on the details as to why, and both Earl and Marshall think there’s more going on than meets the eye. Earl begins to fear that maybe the singular qualities he possesses are transferable and have been passed down to his daughter as well, and that she is likely to tread the same path. With everything else that is going on, he has to take steps to protect his daughter from her own stupidity, which makes him vary from his usual methods substantially.

As strong as the central story is, and as well as the complexity that surrounds Earl’s life is elaborated upon, there are additional elements introduced into the story that perhaps don’t work so smartly. An aristocrat police detective (a sorely miscast Demi Moore) is hot on the Thumbprint Killer’s trail. She is going through a messy divorce, and additionally is being hunted by another serial killer who she put in prison but has recently escaped. Her acting isn’t the only problem with this part of the story, it’s also the hammy and hacky way these elements, including the hunter becoming the hunted, are dealt with. They feel extraneous, because the flick’s strengths are as a character study, not as a police procedural, even though they are incorporated, by flick’s end, in a somewhat satisfying way. Earl becomes curious about the cop, and becomes involved in her life in a way that isn’t particularly sane but at least provides closure for all concerned.

Another major problem is that whilst I can accept that the killer combination of Earl and Marshall are super smart halves of a genius whole, it becomes increasingly implausible that he can do absolutely everything the plot requires of him. If the plot requires him to be an expert hacker, he’s an expert hacker. If it requires him to adopt the appearance of other beings and use/create fake ids, he can do it instantaneously. It goes a bit towards decreasing the story’s credibility that he can do so many things at the same time without anyone noticing. Serial killers seem to have become the new superhero, if you can believe that.

Still, despite the problems I might have with it, it’s a strong and well acted entry into the genre. Costner has gone some way towards redeeming himself with this performance, which slightly makes up for all the other crap he’s perpetrated in the last twenty years or so. Hurt is as good as he ever is, and grounds his creepy and funny character in a dark reality that provides a wonderful contrast to Costner’s performance. One great scene has them wondering about how wonderful and convenient it would be if Mr Smith were stupid enough to get run over by traffic, and then when they observe him having a close call with another car, they laugh like loons.

It brought a big ol’ smile to my face, as did most of this flick. It generally celebrates brains over blood, but there are a few scenes of gratuitous brutality to satisfy the league of gorehounds. Maybe it could have been a bit smarter, or at least half as smart as it thinks it is, by leaving out a lot of the clunkier elements, and leaving out Demi Moore entirely, who improves nothing and no-one with her presence but certainly does with her absence. All the same, it’s one of the more entertaining flicks of this kind to have come out in ages.

8 times I’m happy to just be a regular non-genius type, if that’s the price to pay, out of 10

“I don't enjoy killing, Mr. Smith. I do it because I'm addicted to it” – Mr Brooks