Saturday, June 2, 2007

Mr. Brooks & Gracie

This weekend I splurged and saw two movies. But I got them backwards. The one I should have seen early, so the sun would still be shining when I got out of it, I saw very late on Friday night. And the one I could have seen before bedtime, I saw as a Saturday matinee. My bad.

Friday's late show was the Bruce Evans film Mr. Brooks, a new serial-killer drama featuring Kevin Costner. Costner plays the titular Earl Brooks, a successful businessman who is fighting to free himself of a terrible addiciton: killing people. He hates it and wants to stop, and for two years he has been able to resist the urges of his homicidal alter ego (personified as "Marshall," played by William Hurt). Costner and Hurt in tandem create a chilling portrait of a predator's tortured psychology.

As the movie opens, Costner is reciting the Desiderata in his mind while being honored by the Chamber of Commerce. After two years of abstinence, his ability to resist Marshall's urgings has been worn to the breaking point. So, intending it to be his last kill, Costner kisses his wife (CSI's Marg Helgenberger) goodnight, and pulls off another opus of the master murderer known to police as the Thumbprint Killer. But this time, Costner is captured on film by a peeping tom (comedian Dane Cook) who brings prints of the photos to Costner--incredibly, not to blackmail him, but to demand to be allowed along on Costner's next kill. And soon.

This is a tight spot for Costner to be in, as a fanatically dedicated homicide detective (Demi Moore) is hot on his trail. And on top of everything else, Mr. Brooks' daughter (Danielle Panabaker) suddenly comes home from college, under suspicion for an on-campus murder. Brooks' mental coping powers are pushed to the limit as he tries to save his daughter (knowing that "she has what he has"), while also trying to spare his family the shame of knowing what he truly is. His struggle to break free of his personal demon, and the cop's race to catch him before he kills again, leads to an intense, sometimes graphically violent, complex plot with a mind-blowing climax.

As evil as Costner's character is, it's hard not to feel sad for him as you watch this film unfold. The script is powerfully structured and full of deft dialogue. The picture has a dark, atmospheric look, disturbingly blending shocks, gore, and filth with a buttoned-up tidiness that just screams "serial killer." The moment when the hook is set in you, early in the movie, is Costner's reaction after he does his "last" murder. His acting is at its unsettling best, and there are moments when he and Hurt jive together in such a way that you are prepared to believe they are one person. (I am particularly thinking of one scene in which they laugh in unison.) Amazingly done, but apt to keep you awake half the night!

Today's light fluff matinee was the sports movie (I always have to see the sports movies!) Gracie, featuring Elizabeth Shue and Dermot Mulroney. It's the story of a girl in the 1970's who fought to get on her high school's boys' soccer team, in memory of her soccer star brother who had been killed in a car accident the previous year. The family drama between the girl and her parents is really the heart of the movie, directed by Davis Guggenheim. Very little else is really interesting, if you have seen as many sports movies as I have, except that for once it is depicting an American high school soccer program attended by enthusiastic supporters - which really, by itself, is quite a novelty.

I go to sports movies expecting to get choked up. I'm sorry to say this movie didn't do it for me, though the closest it came was the scene where Elizabeth Shue testifies in front of the school board that she doesn't understand her family's obsession with sports, but even though it means "missing" her daughter, she supports Gracie's effort to play on the boys' team. Shue did a very good job.

Gracie was harder to sympathize with, perhaps because of the very things that made her so remarkable and gave her the strength to do what she did. She was, essentially, an angry, rebellious girl, difficult to get along with. Not the kind of character tailor-made to make the audience cheer for her. But it's not hard to understand her being a lonely underdog with a dream nobody else understood.

So, it wasn't a great movie or one that made me reach for the Kleenex, but it passed the time.

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