Judge Dennis Prince once had a dark side, an unfortunate mishap thanks to a tube of unreliable bronzing cream.
Our review of Mr. Brooks, published October 23rd, 2007, is also available.
Who is Mr. Brooks?
Duality is always a ripe topic to drive a thriller. Often, however, such narratives that explore the inner conflicts of good and evil within a character get mishandled, either by laborious exposition or, alternately, by gaping plot holes and implausible eventualities. With Mr. Brooks, however, writers Raynold Gideon and Bruce A. Evans (who also directed the film) show that a gripping and chilling tale can be rightly told within two hours such that you find the same satisfaction here comparable to having completed a well crafted novel. They took the "indie" approach with this well made picture; wonder if that has anything to do with the refreshing intelligence of this compelling tale of a man who struggles with a most alarming addiction.
Facts of the Case
Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner, Rumor Has It) has just been proclaimed Portland's man of the year, the humble and bespectacled independent businessman rising in genuine modesty to receive the community's adulation. Why, then, does he cling to the edge of his bed, shuddering as he nervously recites the Serenity Prayer to ward off…what? Perhaps it's Marshall (William Hurt, Altered States), the smugly grinning fellow who seems to taunt and torture Earl, attempting to incite in into doing something entirely awful. But, wait—Marshall isn't an antagonist to Earl but, somehow, a visible manifestation of Earl's own psyche; a dark half that is eager to encourage the seemingly benign businessman into succumbing to an addiction: serial murder. Brooks has taken an unholy liking to random murder, his methods precise, untraceable, and wholly satisfying. But when he breaks a two-year reprieve of his obsession, he is caught in the act by a slimy photographer, Mr. Smith (Dane Cook, Tourgasm). Smith isn't interested in turning Earl in but, rather, wants to ride along for the next assassination. Calm yet concerned that his dark endeavors might be exposed to his family and to the community, Earl agrees to show Mr. Smith the ropes of pre-meditated murder. Just then, the impetuous Detective Atwood (Demi Moore, G.I. Jane) has come within mere inches of discovering who is behind Earl's handiwork yet is demonized by her own troubles with a pending divorce and an escaped killer she had previously put away and who is actively gunning for her. These people's tangled lives and desperate pursuits will soon intertwine in a climax where all must face their "other self."
How wonderful it is to see a production that is built upon a solid script, employs appropriately capable actors (mostly—more on that later), and believes in its material enough to see it through without falling into the usual clichés that usually suck the believability out of a thriller of this sort. Gideon and Evans have delivered a narrative that is instantly alluring in its methodical unveiling of a nice "everyman" who has so much more brewing than visible on his exterior. The fact that he has a very dark and despicable side yet is not portrayed blandly as just evil-for-evil's-sake is what makes him so irresistible to watch. Further, his struggles to conquer and control his addiction immediately strike a chord with any adult viewer. And, although he cannot successfully tame his temptations, he still maintains a chilling aura of control whenever he proceeds to do those things he wishes he wouldn't. But the film is not solely focused on Mr. Brooks' troubles but, wisely, also exposes and explores the conflict of those around him, they who support and they who pursue him. Again, like a good novel, the narrative here allows proper time for us to become acquainted with the other key characters and properly develops and (largely) resolves their matters over the course of the film. To that end, there's a pleasant efficiency within Mr. Brooks, delivered in a way that makes every scene meaningful and relevant to keeping us at full attention from start to finish.
Without question, Costner exceeds expectations here, usually bearing the burden of critical and public perception that sees him as having been far too inconsistent in his body of work; a fair assertion. His performance as Earl Brooks, however, is top notch. He approaches the role in the true spirit intended by writers Gideon and Evans and was noted as proclaiming that, at the end of the day, it would be their vision that would drive the final outcome. With that, Costner skillfully underplays the role, resisting any temptation to overly dramatize the proceedings in the vein of a Hannibal Lecter, opting to deliver a very matter-of-fact approach to his "business." He is believably parental in his portrayal of the devoted family man, his patriarchy also spilling into the manner in which he runs his business and also manages his "extra-curricular" affairs. His internal struggles are most convincing, both when quivering alone under the affliction of his irresistible temptation as well as when playing off his visible alter ego, Marshall. William Hurt, as Marshall, strikes excellent chemistry with Costner, the two deliberating, disagreeing, and eventually laughing devilishly at their well-planned assaults. Looking eerily pasty throughout the picture, Hurt appears as an unsettling "living ghost" intent to buttress and sometimes battle with his host, Earl. Hurt is notably maniacal in his usual uber-controlled style, an approach that works very well in this context.
Of course, in order to drive the plot, the Costner/Hurt duo needs other characters to feed from, the best being Detective Atwood, played by Demi Moore. As the tough female cop, Moore seems to exude the obnoxious, even bratty, nature that has seemingly naturally emerged from the actress, indicating she's not really "playing" in this role. Nevertheless, she's perfectly suited to portray the angrily conflicted Atwood in a sub-plot that runs mostly parallel to that of Brooks and his endeavors. Still, like a good novel, these plots intertwine at appropriate times without simply dropping or disingenuously contradicting the characters' methods and motivations. Marg Helgenberger (C.S.I: Crime Scene Investigation), as Earl's wife, Emma, isn't given much to do except appear as the beautiful and adoring spouse who has absolutely no idea of the dark secret harbored within the man who sleeps next to her. Similarly, Danielle Panabaker (Shark) as daughter Jane is likewise relegated to exist as a plot point here and, frankly, her character seemed the most superfluous in this otherwise fine ensemble endeavor. Then there's Dane Cook, an unlikely comedian now hopeful of gaining big screen time. While the character of Mr. Smith is largely custodian for the resolution Earl ultimately reaches, Cook's pouting performance doesn't bode well for his chances for genuinely rubbing elbows with true actors. He wants to be chummy with his more accomplished cast members but generally looks like a walk-on throughout the show. This is the only point of miscasting in this otherwise fine collective of talent.
When it comes to this new Blu-ray disc, the question that arises is whether all high-definition releases must feature a dazzling image that's amazingly detailed, color enriched, and virtually dimensional in its presentation. Well, Mr. Brooks certainly looks good in this 1080p/VC1 encoded transfer, but it doesn't "pop" in the way high-def enthusiasts crave—and that's OK. The image is clear and well detailed, the source material looking absolutely pristine and the transfer appearing free of any compression guffaws. That said, don't expect anything as visually spectacular as, say, Spider-Man 3 on Blu-ray; that sort of production design is simply not here. The colors here are somewhat muted, intentionally, and the picture takes on a comfortable "film" look, a bit of light grain visible from time to time and a contrast that is subtle yet suitable. Dark levels are well managed to draw out shadow detail, but don't look for that velvety smoothness like some other BD releases. Again, this isn't a bad thing because the look presented here suits the film perfectly and to have "tweaked" it into an eye-popping delivery would more likely detract from the film's dark and deliberate mood. Certainly, though, this transfer will look superlative to a standard-definition transfer but it's not "reference quality;" doesn't have to be. The audio is similarly subdued, fitting this production that doesn't require constantly active surround channel activity or a perpetually booming low end despite the fact it's captured in a DTS-HD Master Audio Lossless track. This actually works in the picture's favor since, when gunplay erupts, it does so with a jarring effect, each shot thundering and echoing around the suddenly immersive soundstage. The sound design team chose their battles well and the result is a more realistic aural presentation. The all-important dialogue, of course, is perfectly balanced for the duration.
This disc includes a number of pleasing extras, none bombastic or overly fluffy, just a collection of to-the-point bonus materials that properly uphold the tone and intent of the picture. First up is a commentary track where Gideon and Evans provide an intelligent and informative discussion regarding the production, from initial concept to post-production wrap up. They truly have passion for this work, one that they engaged in to prove to others (and also to themselves) that they could deliver "adult-oriented entertainment" beyond their previous works, which include Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Jungle 2 Jungle. A couple of featurettes follow, each running less than 10 minutes, lightly exploring aspects of the writing, production, and character realization. A series of deleted scenes, totaling about six minutes' worth, are included but are largely superfluous. A theatrical trailer wraps up the extras. Notably, all extras are presented in HD format; nice touch.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If there is a blemish to Mr. Brooks, it's the fact that its narrative has been intentionally left open for future installments. Gideon and Evans have indicated they see this as a potential multi-picture endeavor and have left a certain amount of the plot unresolved by the time the credits roll. Unfortunately, it would seem that a follow-on effort might be redundant and could likely detract from the goodness of this film. They've done excellent work here, especially in opting to take the non-studio route to produce and distribute their film yet, perhaps, were tempted by the most egregious trapping of the commercial film industry—the sequel! Judgment will be withheld until we see if such an eventuality will come to pass. As it stands, however, Mr. Brooks, in its current form, can conceivably exist as a one-off nicely enough.
If you hardly took notice of Mr. Brooks during its all-too-brief theatrical bow, you're encouraged to give it a look now. It's a perfectly engaging thriller to be enjoyed on a quiet night and one you'll likely be sorry to see end. And although the high definition treatment isn't on par with some of the more spectacular 1080p releases to date, it's still your best bet for a good viewing if you have the hardware to support an HD showing.
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