The brilliance of Mr. Brooks – Kevin Costner’s underrated horror gem

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Kevin Costner is Mr. Brooks – Courtesy of MGM

In 2007, Kevin Costner left his good guy persona behind to don the mask of a serial killer in Mr. Brooks.  This may be a better film than Dances with Wolves and I’m not kidding!

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

Kevin Costner Has a Dark Side

2007 was the year that Kevin Costner decided to become interesting. Prior to that, he was your typical leading man who made lengthy films that won golden statues. I will admit I did like Dancing with Wolves but I enjoyed JFK more.

Bull Durham is a fun romp that causes me to drop what I am doing and watch it when it comes on my television. However, most of these movies are just exercises for Costner to showcase his good side. Yes, we know he’s going to do the right things, he will always be principled and his characters are honorable.

Enter Mr. Brooks and all bets are off. Hollywood’s handsome leading man as a repressed, no nonsense businessman who moonlights as a serial killer? That grabs my attention! Who thought Kevin had it in him? Turns out he does and it is downright scary to watch.

Costner isn’t alone with his tour de force performance either. He is surrounded by two equally capable actors who aren’t exactly known for being in the horror genre. Demi Moore was in the Seventh Sign which didn’t light up the box office and William Hurt was in the critically acclaimed Altered States.

The Ego and The Id

Both thespians are known more for works like Ghost and Broadcast News. Both of those films have “and the award goes to” written all over them. This is one of Hurt’s more frightening roles. Two words come to mind when trying to describe his impact- menacing and psychotic.

Marshall, Hurt’s character is the personification of Earl Brooks’ insatiable bloodlust. Like a nagging headache he is ever present urging Brooks to satisfy his baser needs. As much as Earl keeps him at bay by attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, the 12 steps are not enough to stop the pangs.

Finally, Brooks gives in and commits a murder of an exhibitionist couple. However, he takes his time with them watching at first while they have sex. Being a serial killer, he has thoroughly planned this adventure out. Leaving his signature calling card behind, the bloody thumbprints of his victims. Hence this is how he became known as the Thumbprint Killer.

Because he has been a little rusty having not killed for two years, he neglected to shut the curtains. This blunder results in a domino effect with murderous consequences. However, this mistake allows Marshall to take over as he controls Earl at every turn.

Our Own Private Marshall

The best part about William Hurt’s performance is that he clearly has some of the best lines in the film. He says them with relish and is loving every second that he is on screen which makes it a bonus for the audience.  When he utters “I like eating. I like f******. I like killing,” a shiver runs down your spine.

Why? Because Hurt’s delivery is very matter of fact. It is like he is giving you the rundown on a basketball game. Marshall is dangerous because he is one of the smartest guys in the room. He is the reason Earl has managed to stay out of trouble.

In reality, we all have our own Marshall’s. Where he is the regulator of Earl Brooks’ killing instinct, in a normal person, he would be known as a conscience. Marshall is the part of your brain that gets you to think before you say something stupid.

Dark Ambition

Playing the protagonist to Costner’s Brooks is not an easy feat. Rather the opposite, Demi Moore has her work cut out for her as Detective Tracy Atwood. While she is clearly his moral superior, they both share dark sides.

Atwood’s is her ambition and drive. This is what killed her marriage but makes her at the top of her game in her profession. Trying to please a father who had no want or need for a female child, she made it her mission in life to succeed at any cost.

It is a story as old as time. However, such single-minded focus can be the downfall of a person who is blinded by determination. Moore is very adept at portraying characters that are tough as nails on the outside but vulnerable on the inside.

That veneer has been the hallmark of her career and started around the time of St. Elmo’s Fire. As Jules, the tormented rich girl she is the life of the party but inwardly she longs to be saved from the superficiality of her world.

It is precisely this ability that serves her well in this movie. Her pursuit of the Thumbprint Killer makes her a willing adversary and wins her the respect of Brooks.