Saturday, April 12, 2014


(June 2007, U.S.)

As an American actor, Kevin Costner can more-than-often be counted on to be the good guy. Characters like Elliot Ness (THE UNTOUCHABLES), John Dunbar (DANCES WITH WOLVES), Jim Garrison (JFK) and even Jonathan Kent (MAN OF STEEL) persistently do the right thing and have the best interests of his fellow man at heart. From the moment you hear about a role like this for a certain man you know to be so damn sweet and honorable, you may approach it with some hesitation. It may not make sense at first glance, but when you truly consider it, perhaps it's the overall good guy who's best suited to play the diabolical serial killer. It's not only a great acting challenge for the good guy, but also a whole lot more fun for the viewer because we get to witness what can only be described as the flip side of the character coin.

Earl Brooks (Costner) is a wealthy, successful businessman recently honored by the Portland, Oregon Chamber of Commerce as "Man of the Year." In his secret life, however, Brooks is known as the "Thumbprint Killer." He's abstained from murder for the past two years by actually attending the 12-step meetings for addicts to cope with his killing addiction. He feels the compulsion to kill rising again, as his darker alter ego, Marshall (played by William Hurt) becomes more insistent. In fact, let me say right here that to watch these two have intense conversations with each other and laugh with each other as if there are actually two people happening here and not the same man is a real trip to watch between two very gifted actors. Anyway, to satisfy his addiction, Brooks brutally shoots a young couple while they're having sex in their apartment and, as part of his pathosis, leaves each of the victims' bloody thumbprints on a lampshade. Brooks follows his meticulous motives, including fastidious preparation and cleaning up the crime scene, even locking the doors before departing. It's only after all of that, that Marshall notices that the couple's curtains were open the entire time. Such a careless mistake is prone to an eyewitness and perhaps potential blackmail, and this, as they say, is where the real fun begins.

Having said that, we enter the man who will only identify himself as "Mr. Smith" (played by comedian Dane Cook). You can probably guess that he saw the whole thing and wants something in return for keeping his mouth shut. Money? Nah, too easy! What this guy wants is to experience the potential rush of murder by watching Brooks commit his next act. In short, what we have here is a less-than-traditional mentor/protégé relationship. While it won't bleed Brooks financially or send him to jail, it is, nonetheless, an annoying inconvenience to deal with, which ultimately opens the door for the viewing audience to expect Mr. Brooks to ultimately kill "Mr. Smith" at some point. Truth be told, when you've heard just how irritating Mr. Smith can be, you sort of want it to happen, and quickly, too.

Mr. Brooks, is, of course, the bad guys of this picture. And naturally, when there's a bad guy, that inevitably means there must be a good guy. So enter detective Tracy Atwood (played by Demi Moore), who's not only determined to get her man, but is also going through a messy divorce at the same time. As a matter of fact, Demi Moore is so surprisingly good in this role, despite having done G.I. JANE (1997), she would have made a great action hero in her younger days (hey, perhaps it's not too late. I mean, Helen Mirren did it at her age in two RED moves!). Like many detective heroes, she moves by her wits, her senses and her hunches. In a way, they pay off in the end when she thinks she's captured the "Thumbprint Killer" in the form of the "Mr. Smith". Deep in her gut, though, she knows better, and we know better because we've not only watched it all happen, but deep down, perhaps we don't want Mr. Brooks to be captured. You see, the barbaric side of our human nature is able to somehow empathize with the serial killer in this film and hope only the best will come from his sick exploits.

Notice in my first paragraph, I've used the word addiction to describe Mr. Brook's murderous impulses. That's not my own creation. The film uses the word, too. At his 12-step meeting, he stands before his fellow addicts and says, "My name is Earl Brooks. I'm an addict." That's it. Nothing more. Those around him can presume it's the traditional crutch like drugs, alcohol, gambling or even sex. Who amongst him would ever suspect his addiction is murder?? Because we know the truth, it makes the simple descriptive word of addict far more intriguing. Now, while I'm certainly no psychiatrist, it certainly gives the film viewer a moment of pause to consider the fact that serial murder can, and perhaps is, just as much of non-controlling habit as anything else we've heard of. Even Brooks himself admits that he doesn't enjoy killing, but can't help it. Consider also that life's addictions can be passed down to our children. The film offers such a consideration and asks us to entertain the notion that Brook's daughter has likely inherited her father's deadly addiction. We've already learned that she's guilty of having murdered a fellow college student (a murder which her dutiful father helps to cover up, by the way) before returning home in a pregnant state. Was her victim random? Did she kill the father of her baby? Was it the only time and will she do it again? These are questions one can ask oneself when considering the prospect of addiction. If serial murder is an addiction, how does one stop if one is not caught or killed? In the end, neither option happens to Earl Brooks, and short of a sequel or two, we're left to question just what will happen next to the life of Mr. Brooks.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Tracy Atwood (answering the phone): "Atwood."
Earl Brooks: "Why are you a cop?"
Tracy: "Who is this?"
Brooks: "You're rich, you have a good education, you could have gone into your father's business. Instead, you went outside all of that and became successful on your own. Why?"
Tracy: "If you want something from me, then you're gonna have to tell me who you are or I'm gonna hang up."
Brooks: "Did you think your husband's killing was random? And I certainly didn't have to give you Meeks."
Tracy: "Mr. Bafford?"
Brooks: "What's the answer?"
Tracy: "You don't sound like you."
Brooks: "Well, I have a little cold. Are you going to give me the answer?"
Tracy: "Where are you?"
Brooks: "I'll tell you if you can give me the true answer to my question."
Tracy: "My, my father was very disappointed that I was born a girl, and he let me know it. I've spent my whole life trying to prove him wrong."
Brooks: "Thank you."

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