This is one of the biggest surprises of the past five years.
To tell you the truth, I thought this was going to SSUUUUUCCKK.
Why would I choose to watch a movie if I expected it to be so bad, you ask?
Well, how bout a little less questions and a little more shut-the-hell-up?
Maybe sometimes I want to watch a bad movie just to marvel at its badness, and to inform you, dear reader, of its many pitfalls and pratfalls so that you may avoid its trappings. That‚??s right. I suffer through crap so that you won‚??t have to.
But this film is decidedly not crap. As a matter of fact, it‚??s actually pretty good, and parts of it are pitch-perfect. And if there were a couple of different choices made in the casting and a couple of tweeks made to the B-story, this would have been one of the greatest films ever made in its genre.
That genre, of course, is the psychological thriller. The script‚??s main device, dreamed up by director Bruce Evans and his longtime writing partner Raynold Gideon, is totally original and utterly brilliant. The device is this: Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner) is a loving husband and father, not to mention a civic-minded businessman who has just been given the Man of the Year Award by the Portland Chamber of Commerce. He is also a cold-blooded serial killer, addicted to the thrill of the kill (he even goes to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, trying to get past this addiction). His fractured psyche is represented in a literal fashion by Marshall (played by the fantastic and perpetually underrated William Hurt). Marshall is the manifestation of Earl‚??s alter ego, the representation of his unchecked id. It is Marshall who coaxes Earl into committing murder; he‚??s like a reverse conscience‚??think of him as kind of an evil Jiminy Cricket. But Marshall is also Earl‚??s imaginary best friend and confidant. We can see Earl and Marshall having conversations, both in private and in front of other people, but no one notices, because both ends of the conversation are entirely in Earl‚??s head. It‚??s a fantastic device and it works 1000% of the time.
If you‚??ve seen the trailer, you know the inciting incident: while committing a double murder of a couple in mid-coitus, Mr. Brooks is captured on camera by a peeping tom, a lonely and slightly demented guy named Baffert. Baffert introduces himself to Brooks as Mr. Smith, and uses the photos to blackmail the killer into teaching him how to kill. Meanwhile, Detective Tracy Atwood is hot on the trail of the Thumbprint Killer (So called by the media because he leaves the thumbprints of his victims at the scene, using their own blood as ink. They never explain why Brooks does this, but whatever).
Here‚??s the movies first problem: they cast Dane Cook as Baffert/Smith. For the three of you out there who haven‚??t heard of the obnoxiously ubiquitous Mr. Cook, he of the 2,158,935 MySpace friends, he is a successful young stand-up comic turned actor.
Now, I believe there are two kinds of people in this world. People who like Dane Cook, and people who want to kill Dane Cook with a hacksaw. I put myself in the latter group. I am president of the latter group. I fucking DESPISE Dane Cook. He is a waste of organic matter, utterly worthless as a human being, breathing air that should be going to a far more deserving individual. Fuck Dane Cook. Fuck him right in his fucking ear. A million people die every day, why can‚??t one of them be Dane Cook? I will admit that there are things he does in this performance that are actually pretty good, but there are a lot of times where he‚??s trying to force comedy into scenes where it flat-out doesn‚??t belong. Overall though, he can‚??t seem to play low status, insisting on being the smartest, strongest and coolest guy in the room. But he‚??s none of those things, and so the character just comes off as an enormous douchebag. Through doing a little research, I found out that Zach Braff from ‚??Scrubs‚?? and ‚??Garden State‚?? was originally cast as Baffert/Smith. I like Braff more than Cook, but that‚??s not the answer either. This character shouldn‚??t be a smart ass, he shouldn‚??t have an post-modern hipster sense of humor, he shouldn‚??t be fucking QUIRKY, he should just be a little off. A guy with an unexplored dark side. It could be an absolute keg of dynamite in the hands of a genuinely gifted young character actor. This is exactly the kind of role that needs to go to the great Walton Goggins, who plays Shane on ‚??The Shield‚??. He‚??s going to breakout into films sometime soon and this part would have been perfect for him. OR OH MY GOD I JUST THOUGHT OF THIS RIGHT NOW OH MY GOD WHAT ABOUT BEN FOSTER!?!?!?!?! I mean he skews a little young, I know, but fuck that, I don‚??t care if this role was originally written for a SIXTY year old, you cast this man! CAST THIS MAN!!! Ben Foster needs to be in everything. My god, I weep when I think of how good he would have been in this role, and how much better he would have made the film as a whole. But no. He‚??s not as marketable as a hack comedian with 2 million MySpace friends. Fuck you Hollywood. Stop giving me Shia Leboeuf and Dane Cook and start giving me Ben Foster and Walton Goggins.
When I take over Hollywood in five years, my first order of business is going to be to order the public execution of Dane Cook in the town square, to be hanged by the neck until dead, so sayeth Alex.
The film‚??s second problem is its B-story. That involves Detective Tracy Atwood, played by Demi Moore.
(Good news, America! Demi Moore has finally pulled herself off of Ashton Kutcher‚??s cock long enough to make a significantly less than triumphant return to feature films!)
For some reason, the writers feel like they need to have Brooks in danger from the law, so they give us a foil for him. But instead of doing something smart and cool, like making Detective Atwood a guy, of a comparable age to Brooks, who is an actual Alcoholic, whose wife has taken the kids and left, who is reckless and violent, yet brilliant and great at his job‚??give Brooks a parallel figure for an antagonist, a guy we actually like and root for in spite of his faults, and this film ratchets up to a tremendous level of excellence. Then hire an actor like‚??I don‚??t know‚??Alec Baldwin or somebody comparable, to play him and you‚??re golden.
But instead of doing that, they make Atwood a woman detective. A woman detective who has a hard-ass for a boss (also a woman and played by former Mamet-wife Lindsey Crouse, coaxed out of semi-retirement) and a (male) partner she doesn‚??t respect, who is in the middle of an ugly divorce from her second, much younger husband, who cheated on her with several women and is cheating on her right now with his divorce lawyer, but the husband wants five million dollars from Atwood, because she is actually an heiress worth somewhere north of 65 million, and by the way, she is also the target of a SECOND UNRELATED SERIAL KILLER named Meeks (called The Hangman because, well, you can guess, you‚??re not stupid) whom Atwood sent up the river but he only recently escaped from jail and he‚??s all ‚??roided out and stalking her and ‚?¶ do you care yet? Actually, maybe you do. When I look at the way I described it, it doesn‚??t seem so bad. But the way it‚??s executed in the script, and the way the character is portrayed by Demi Moore, it just feels like she‚??s a cold, ball-busting bitch in a lame tacked-on subplot. The two threads are interwoven at the end, but there‚??s really no payoff. And in two ridiculous action scenes that are so out of place, they feel like they were edited in from an entirely different film, they make Atwood into Tango or Cash or John freaking McClane. These are the two biggest missteps by the filmmakers, and in a different film, they might have made me hate it. But here, they flaws are so outweighed by the brilliance of the stuff that does work, and I don‚??t really care that much.
The C-plot, which should have been the B-plot, is riveting. Earl and his wife Emma (played by Marg Helgenberger from ‚??Species‚?? and the first ‚??CSI‚??) have a nineteen year-old daughter, Jane (well-played by the young Dana Panabaker), who has just dropped out of her freshman year at Stanford and returned home. I‚??ll leave it to you to find out why. I‚??ll only say that Marshall warns Earl, ‚??She‚??s hiding something,‚?? and he is SO right.
Kevin Costner does his best work in years.
I usually like Kevin Costner, except in two MAJOR instances. In ‚??Dances With Wolves,‚?? I just felt like he was so fucking bland, his character might have been named ‚??Acts Like A Mannequin‚??. And he pretty much RUINED ‚??Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves‚??, but then again, I‚??m an unapologetic Dialect Snob. (Since when is the Sherwood Forest in fucking Iowa?)
But in flims like ‚??Bull Durham‚?? and ‚??Field of Dreams‚?? he‚??s excellent. And I thought he was a better Wyatt Earp than Kurt Russell. But there‚??s a movie, directed by Clint Eastwood, called ‚??A Perfect World,‚?? in which he delivers the performance of a lifetime. In it, his escaped convict goes on a road trip with a near-mute kid in a Casper-The-Ghost costume, and Costner gets to show off a confident darkness that we never knew was in him. More recently, he was the only thing worth watching in ‚??3000 Miles To Graceland,‚?? playing the psychotic criminal Murph. It‚??s a kick to witness. He is having so much fun. Too bad the movie BLOWS.
But here, his performance is so layered, it‚??s hard to describe. Watch for the scene between him and William Hurt in the kitchen. It‚??s written very well, directed even better, and acted to absolute perfection. Every single scene between Costner and Hurt is goddamn fantastic.
Ah, William Hurt. Everyone knows the scene from the trailer where he whispers ‚??I love what you are thinking.‚?? That is his performance in a nutshell. Everything he does or says drips with malevolent glee. It‚??s a joy to watch.
I struggled with how many stars to give this. In the end, I gave it 3-and-a-half, because of the shitty B-Plot and because of Dane fucking Cook. But the stuff that works, works SO WELL, and Costner and Hurt are so good, that in spite of all of this film‚??s poor choices and missteps and shortcomings, I really enjoyed it. I recommend it to fans of the genre or to fans of Kevin Costner or to fans of great acting. And if you‚??re a fan of all three, go rent it NOW.