I can't be the only one frustrated with movies that make us root for characters whose unsavory acts conflict with our moral convictions. As fun as George Clooney and his associates are in Ocean's Eleven, they're still a band of thieves pulling off a multi-million dollar heist. As badly as we want Keri Russell's character to leave an abusive marriage and find a proper father for her unborn child, Waitress asks us to support an adulterous relationship in the process. And as charming and cordial as Hannibal Lecter may be in Silence of the Lambs and its subsequent films, the dude's still a murderous cannibal.
Mr. Brooks joins a long list of films and literature featuring anti-heroes. Kevin Costner stars in the title role, a loving family man with a successful business and named Man of the Year, no less. But he also carries a dark secret—he's the elusive Thumbprint Killer.
We've heard the story before: The seemingly well-adjusted family man living a heinous dual life. But what if I told you that Brooks isn't evil exactly? That he doesn't kill for fun? What if, for him, it's an addiction? And what if he's honestly trying to leave his murderous past behind him, doing his best to protect his family from such a shameful, horrific secret? Mr. Brooks may be about a killer—and it certainly has its fair share of suspense and violence—but at heart it's a movie about addiction (of the worst kind) and the struggle to overcome the temptations of sinful nature.
Skeptical? I would be too, but the film pulls it off in its execution—er, that is, implementation.
The movie begins in darkness with the whispered words of Brooks … fervently praying The Serenity Prayer in bed. Reinhold Niebuhr's prayer is familiar to members of Alcoholics Anonymous, and indeed, Brooks attends the meetings: "Hi, my name is Earl Brooks, and I'm an addict." He just refrains from identifying what kind.
Our anti-hero is making great personal strides in his life. Business is booming, the family seems happy, and it's been two years since his last murder. But as any addict can relate, temptation can come calling at any time—literally so for Brooks, in the form of Marshall (William Hurt), a separate personality in Brooks' mind representing his dark side. Though Marshall isn't purely the id of Brooks' personality, he's the voice inside us that rationalizes immoral behavior ("Why do you fight it so hard, Earl?"), almost like the little devil sitting on the shoulder of a cartoon character.
Unfortunately, giving in to temptation is only a matter of time for Earl. On the fateful night that opens the movie, he shoots a young couple in their home during bedroom sex. Never again, he tells himself while methodically removing all traces of his presence from the apartment like a practiced professional, and you can't help but wonder how many times he's thought that before. Yet we believe his shame and remorse—maybe this really is the last time.
Problem is, Brooks has gotten sloppy from lack of practice, and it costs him. A neighbor identifying himself as Mr. Smith (Dane Cook) photographed Brooks in the act and threatens to expose him to the authorities. That is, unless … well, that would be telling, but suddenly Brooks find himself trapped like the thief trying to retire after one last heist. Complicating the matter further is Detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore), a tough-as-nails cop who has been on the trail of The Thumbprint Killer for years—his resurgence renews her tireless drive to apprehend him. And if that's not enough, Brooks' daughter Jane (Danielle Panabaker) is suddenly home after dropping out from college, her reason for doing so a mystery that also tangles into Brooks' complicated web of a personal life.