Day By Day

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Mr. Brooks Delivers

“She Who Must Not Be Named” and I finally saw a pretty good movie -- one we could enjoy.

For the past few weeks we have been going to critically acclaimed films that were just plain awful. Last week it was “Knocked Up”; the week before it was “Waitress” – bad films both of them, but popular with critics because they had overtones that spoke to the critics’ personal and political concerns.

“Mr. Brooks” is something completely different – a finely crafted thriller that resonates with great films of the past, especially those of Alfred Hitchcock.

One of the most famous moments in movie history is that scene in Psycho where Tony Perkins' character has finished cleaning up after the shower murder and is disposing of the evidence. He gathers it, puts it in the trunk of Janet Leigh’s car, and then hides the car in a swamp. The moment comes when the car is slowly sinking to the bottom of a swampy pond, but then stops. We see anxiety flash briefly across Perkins’ face before the car resumes its descent. In that brief moment we, the audience, realize that Hitchcock has played a nasty trick on us -- we are rooting for and identifying with the bad guy, the sexual pervert nutso killer.

In “Rear Window” Hitchcock does it to us again – telling the story through the eyes of a sick, twisted peeping Tom – Jimmy Stewart. He presents the pervert so sympathetically that we are drawn in and only later realize that Hitchcock has played another nasty trick on us. And then there’s “Vertigo” which is even sicker.

Critics have lavished praise on all these films. It seems that they like to be the butt of sick jokes when they are well-done – at least they used to. Today’s critics take themselves far too seriously to appreciate being jerked around, besides, they’ve seen the joke before. They’re either too jaded or too self-regarding to enjoy the old Hitchcockian moral reversal tales.

And that is just what “Mr. Brooks” is. The title character, brilliantly played by Kevin Costner, is rich, accomplished – a pillar of the community. He is also a serial killer addicted to murder. Like Hillary Clinton, Mr. Brooks has an invisible friend to which he regularly speaks. This mischievous inner daemon, who represents the dark side of Mr. Brooks’ character, is played by the marvelous William Hurt. The interaction between these two fine actors as they contemplate each and every action, is a wonder to behold. Both men are at the top of their game and soon we are sympathizing with them.

Tension comes from three sources. Early in the film, Mr. Brooks makes a mistake, one that threatens to expose his secrets. Soon he is being blackmailed by a twisted peeping Tom and would-be serial killer, poorly played by Dane Cook, who wants not money but a piece of the action. And then there is a second threat – a troubled police detective, played adequately by Demi Moore. She’s having marital problems, has father issues, is being stalked by a murderous criminal, and for years has been obsessively trying to bring the serial killer to justice, whew! She’s smart and is closing in on Mr. Brooks even as her stalker closes in on her. Mr. Brooks likes her, which complicates things. Finally there is Mr. Brooks’ daughter, played by Danielle Panabaker. She seems to have inherited her dad’s bloodlust and is being investigated by police with regard to a brutal murder at her college. Midway through the film Mr. Brooks begins to believe that someday she plans to add him to her list of victims. Got all that?

So the question is – can Mr. Brooks and his alter ego, Marshall, resolve the problem of the blackmailer, elude the detective who is sniffing on their trail while simultaneously saving her from her many problems, protect his daughter from the law, while fending off her potentially murderous intentions toward him, preserve his own secrets and freedom, and perhaps escape from his addiction? Of course he can, he's Kevin Costner.

We’ve seen each of these characters many times before -- the troubled detective; the charismatic super-criminal; the malevolent but seemingly charming child; the sleazy, stupid blackmailer; the hunter who becomes the hunted. One can imagine the jaded critic saying, “Oh no, not that one again!” But what makes “Mr. Brooks” interesting is the way these well-worn elements are woven into a complex, but entertaining whole. Bruce Evans and Raynold Gideon have produced an enjoyable cinematic experience, which these days is no small accomplishment.

Mr. Brooks is an easy, non-challenging film that seeks only to entertain. Plot twists are telegraphed well in advance and Mr. Brooks is terrifyingly efficient in using his special talents to solve the complex array of problems facing him. There is a certain amount of pleasure to be derived from letting these well-worn tropes wash over you. “Mr. Brooks is a seductive film, it draws you in. But remember as you soak it all in – you are rooting for the bad guy; a very, very bad guy.

When you get home afterwards, take a shower. I did.