Costner in top form as Mr. Brooks; Sunshine burns out

Backseat driving with Brooks' alter ego Marshall

Backseat driving with Brooks' alter ego Marshall

Reviewed by Henry B. Rosenbush

Updated and Edited, 3.20.2010; Reviews contain Spoilers and Profanity

With Mr. Brooks, Kevin Costner expands his range to include serial killer in clever, well-acted and thrilling movie from director Bruce A. Evans. It’s a serious piece of work leavened with sardonic humor between a few horrific murders, although thankfully, most occur off camera. Costner’s second strong perf since 2006 in The Guardian it is good to see him back in top form.

Discriminating adult audiences will enjoy it as its DVD premiere comes closer. The early June release only netted $28 million in domestic box-office receipts and is currently only playing on 78 screens. As luck would have it the $1 Carmike Theater in Hoover, which shows second run features, was the only place in Alabama where it was still playing; I had to see how the double character monologue worked. Boy does it, with Costner portraying Portland’s “Man of the Year,” Earl Brooks whose alter ego, Marshall, urges him to kill as “a treat,” is menacingly inked by William Hurt. After two years of avoiding his “addiction,” Brooks shoots two lovers in the head, poses them and returns home where he destroys all evidence of his crime.

Both Oscar winning actors bring plenty of juicy dialogue and the technique of having both actors in scenes conversely verbally while other characters are oblivious to the conscience driven discourse is a briilliant plot device.

This is not the first time this technique has been used; Luis Buñuel did it to perfection in The Obscure Object of Desire (1977) with Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina portraying the same woman with a third performer speaking their dialogue, Fight Club (1999) David Fincher cast Edward Norton and Brad Pitt as the same character with cataclysmic results, and The Double Life of Veronique (1991) Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski utilized Irene Jacob as a woman leading two distinctly different lives and how the death of one alters the other.

It’s an intellectual exercise that, like an on-screen narration, only works if it propels the plot meaningfully and with context. Before the highpoints, a few necessary low ones must be addressed. Brooks could be your next door neighbor and Costner infuses believability in the duality of a regular fellow on one level and a cold-blooded murderer on another.

Supporting actress Marg Helgenberger as Brook’s gorgeous wife, Emma, is cast in an under-written role and thus underused. Her role is merely an extended cameo and shows none of her range as criminalist Catherine Willows on the hit CBS TV Series, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. She is however always pleasing to look at. As the college aged daughter, Jane, the enigmatic Danielle Panabaker, seen as James Wood’s daughter in CBS’s Shark, which followed CSI this past season, brings an oddly perverse streak to her role. It is clear early on she has possibly inherited her father’s murderous genes and this is brought shockingly to life in a nightmarish twist ending that while not totally surprising is nonetheless effective.

Jane has come home unexpectedly; she has dropped out of school and advises she is pregnant. Her return will spark some late reel red herrings and propel an interesting decision by her dad to visit the college for an extracurricular activity after he learns she may have murdered someone.

Stand-up comedian, Dane Cook, as “Mr. Smith,” is more of a plot contrivance as a voyeuristic photographer who captures Brook’s murdering the couple in the throes of lovemaking blackmails him into taking him on the next killing spree. It’s a disturbing role and Cook has good moments, but is a bit naive to not realize his purpose is to serve as the expected scapegoat.

A creepy scene sees Brooks, Smith and Marshall (seated in the back seat) stalk potential victims, mostly couples, as they drive around in the rain past car washes and car dealerships is superb and unnerving. After a truck driver cuts them off, Brooks suggests killing the driver. Smith replies: “Yes! I’ve always wanted to fucking kill somebody who fucked with me in traffic.”

Best support comes from Demi Moore in a role that could have easily been played for laughs but the actress throws a serious reading, with plenty of R-rated salty dialogue as a millionaire’s daughter who has become a cop and is obsessed with catching Brook’s “Thumbprint killer.” Another subplot has her detective character enduring an ugly divorce from greed-motivated pretty boy Jesse Vialo (Jason Lewis) that leads to a nasty surprise for the ex-husband and his femme attorney (Reiko Aylesworth) who are romantically involved, at the hands of Brooks. Ruben Santiago-Hudson, as Atwood’s partner, Hawkins, has a few juicy moments and Lindsey Crouse as her superior has less to do.

Another subplot involving an escaped serial killer that Moore’s Tracy Atwood put away provides a final act shootout, while Smith’s well-deserved fate in a cemetery allows for a neat twist that is profound in its simplicity.

The real show is watching Costner and Hurt interact, “I love what you are thinking,” Marshall says with Earl answering, “You have no idea what I am thinking.” The reply from Marshall has a surreal quality, “Yes, I do, and it’s wonderfully twisted.” As far as internal monologues go you cannot do better.

Their scenes have menace, humor (as when seen both laughing), pathos and danger and are both worthy of Oscar contention in 2008. The two Oscar winners are perfectly cast and complement one another in all their scenes. By sharing the screen together with other actors, but only seen and heard by the audience, creates a wonderful dichotomy wherein we see how the killer’s mind works and actually feel empathy for Brooks as he prays for forgiveness after the opening reel murders.

This is a serial killer flick that goes deeper into the mind of the criminal than usual for this sub-genre presenting layers of regret and repentance. John Lindley’s cinematography works well with Jeffrey Beecroft’s production design. The score by Miklos Wright is a nice mixture of the eerie and requisite action pieces and at times reminds Clint Mansell’s compositions for the 1998 Darren Aronofsky film Pi. Shreveport, Louisiana doubles nicely for Portland, Oregon.

I’ll admit that since The Untouchables and Dances With Wolves to not been impressed with Costner’s movies, although I believe him to be a superb actor, but in the right perf; with Waterworld, The Postman and that wretched Elvis robbery film with Kurt Russell, 3,000 Miles to Graceland, were not much of a challenge.

During an early scene we learn of Brook’s addiction to killing when he attends AA meetings because “I’m an addict.” There is a sad sincerity to his wish to stay clean that is unusual for this kind of film, but delivered in a believable manner. While we cannot condone murder there is poignancy in his battles with Marshall, i.e. himself, over the addiction.

Expect plenty of violence, nudity and profanity.

After seeing Mr. Brooks I’m addicted to Costner’s acting again and while this is not sequel material it does leave open the possibility that his twisted “cure” may be genuine.

The DVD was released October 23rd and offers deleted scenes, a crisp commentary from writer director Evans and one of the producers and screenwriter Raynold Gideon and several featurettes on the making of the film and trailers from other FOX Films.

An MGM release of an Element Films and Relativity Media presentation, in association with Eden Rock Media, of a TIG production. Produced by Jim Wilson, Kevin Costner, Raynold Gideon. Executive producers, Sam Nazarian, Adam Rosenfelt, Marc Shaberg, Thomas Augsberger. Co-executive producer, Malcolm Petal. Directed by Bruce A. Evans. Screenplay, Evans, Raynold Gideon. Camera (color), John Lindley; editor, Miklos Wright; music, Ramin Djawadi; production designer, Jeffrey Beecroft; art director, William Ladd Skinner; set decorator, Ann Kuljian; costume designer, Judianna Makovsky; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/DTS), Steve C. Aaron; sound designer, Emile Razpopov; supervising sound editor, Dessie Markovsky; visual effects supervisor, Patrick McClung; visual effects, Sway Studios; stunt coordinator, Norman Howell; associate producer, Robin Jonas; assistant director, Eric Hays; second unit director, Howell; casting, Mindy Marin.

Reviewed at Carmike Ten, Hoover, Alabama July 30, 2007. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 2:00 Rated R for Violence, sexual situations including nudity, profanity and adult themes.

Mr. Brooks – Kevin Costner
Tracy Atwood – Demi Moore
Mr. Smith – Dane Cook
Marshall – William Hurt
Emma Brooks – Marg Helgenberger
Hawkins – Ruben Santiago-Hudson
Jane Brooks – Danielle Panabaker

Theatrical Trailer for Mr. Brooks

High concept film technically amazing until final reel as “Sunshine” Consumes Itself

Sunburn is least of his worries

Sunburn is least of his worries

Like a star consuming itself before reaching a Super Nova climax, Sunshine burns brightly before it too is devoured by a storyline that is confusing and indifferently acted.

Immediately similar to countless films concerning the apocalyptic end of mankind with a dash of existentialism thrown in; The Core, Event Horizon, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris, Alien, Lifeforce and Supernova are modified in equal measures.

Sunshine is not a bad movie; it has superb visuals, scoring, sound effects and editing and the awesome visualizations of the sun in its death throes are remarkable. Production designer Mark Tildesley’s futuristic sets have an almost retro quality and credit also goes to the countless model makers who designed the ships. Each time we view Icarus II, like most science fiction films, we are given a variety of whips and pans to display the enormity of the craft and the large shield containing the nuclear device. The sound design is deafening but believable.

As the film opens, we are in the year 2057, and Icarus II, with a crew of eight, is 36 million miles from our dying sun carrying a nuclear payload described as the size of Manhattan. Seven years earlier the first craft, Icarus, disappeared with its crew and herein are parallels to Event Horizon when the ship is found near the orbit of Mercury, mostly intact, but devoid of human life. Or is it?

The multicultural actors and crew are a mixture of Asian, Brit and Yank: Captain Kaneda, played by Japan’s Hiroyuki Sanada, biologist Corazon (Malaysia’s Michelle Yeoh) and navigator Trey (British-Chinese thesp Benedict Wong). Rounding out the multicultural crew is toplined Cillian Murphy, so good in Boyle’s “28 Days Later”, as Capa, pilot Cassie (Aussie Rose Byrne), medical officer Searle (Kiwi Cliff Curtis) and two Yanks played respectively by, Chris Evans (Fantastic Four’s human torch, whose death scene ironically involves heroically freezing to death) as the engineer and Troy Garity as communications officer Harvey.

With The Core, earth scientists prepared to restart the earth’s core with nuclear weapons with a group piloting a special ship to the center of the earth. As expected, they succeed after losing most of the crew. Event Horizon, Solaris and 2001 all utilized the more esoteric approach of an existential of spirituality, rebirth and sacrifice. Peter Hyam’s sequel to 2001, 2010 can be correctly viewed as the closest film in structure and characterization to Sunshine.

It’s a high concept film and the digital soundtrack adds to its pedigree. Where the film loses steam occurs when the crew finds the lost Icarus ship orbiting Mercury and decides to investigate. The logic is undeniable; two nuclear weapons are better than one, but before they arrive shield damage forces the captain and Capa to effect repairs. As in all science fiction space operas, the minute the captain opts to leave the ship or lead a heroic mission he becomes expendable (think Alien). Capa survives to return as Captain Kaneda learns firsthand what a microwave dinner goes through as he disintegrates.

Icarus docks with the first vessel and with nod to Event Horizon‘s existential ghost ship motif finds the crew all dead, save for Pinbacker (Mark Strong) who has somehow remained alive but badly burned and certifiably insane. He has been conversing with “God” and has somehow determined earth does not deserve to survive and sabotaged the first ship and will now attempt to irreparably damage Icarus II.

Acting is uneven with Murphy a charismatic lead and Byrne underused as the possible love interest. Weakest of the bunch is Strong who spends his limited screen time spouting unintelligible dialogue. Yeoh (The World in Not Enough) has the largest role among the Asians while Evans (so good in Cellular and the first Fantastic Four) provides late reel heroism to restore the damaged cooling system. Remaining cast is there mainly for their death scenes, most gruesome of them the off-camera suicide of Trey after his miscalculations lead to the captain’s death.

Technically, the set pieces are all amazing; from the opening scene with Searle (Curtis) viewing the sun from an observation deck, through the shield and a docking sequence between the two ships that leads to a dramatic transfer back to the ship. The climax is certainly not a surprise; an earlier scene showing Capa sending a message home telling his parents they will know if the Icarus was successful by an unusually bright sunny day.

Music by John Murphy is fresh and avoids the usual science fiction space movie clichés, lensing by Alwin Kuchler is superb and until the final reel plot machinations, the scenario penned by 28 Days Later scribe, Alex Garland, offers many religious, scientific and humanistic touches in a believable concept. It is with the introduction of Pinbacker that much of story goes awry but the imagery never disappoints.

Sunshine. (U.K.-U.S.) A 20th Century Fox (in U.K.)/Fox Searchlight (in U.S.) release of a Fox Searchlight Pictures (U.S.)/DNA Films (U.K.) presentation, in association with U.K. Film Council, Ingenious Film Partners, of a DNA Films production, in association with Dune Entertainment, Major Studio Partners. Produced by Andrew Macdonald. Co-producer, Bernard Bellew. Directed by Danny Boyle. Screenplay, Alex Garland. Camera (Deluxe color, widescreen), Alwin Kuchler; editor, Chris Gill; music, John Murphy, Underworld; production designer, Mark Tildesley; supervising art director, David Warren; art directors, Gary Freeman, Stephen Morahan, Denis Schnegg; costume designer, Suttirat Anne Larlarb; makeup designer, Mark Coulier; makeup and hair designer, Christine Blundell; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS Digital/SDDS), Tim Fraser, Tom Sayers, John Hayward; sound designer, Glenn Freemantle; second unit camera, Peter Talbot; model unit camera, Stuart Galloway; visual effects supervisor, Tom Wood; special effects supervisor, Richard Conway; stunt coordinator, Julian Spencer; assistant director, Richard Styles; casting, Donna Isaacson, Gail Stevens.

Reviewed at Rave Theater, Birmingham, AL July 30, 2007. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 1:47 Rated R for Violence, profanity and adult themes.

Capa – Cillian Murphy
Mace – Chris Evans
Cassie – Rose Byrne
Corazon – Michelle Yeoh
Kaneda – Hiroyuki Sanada
Searle – Cliff Curtis
Harvey – Troy Garity
Trey – Benedict Wong
Pinbacker – Mark Strong
Voice of Icarus – Chipo Chung
Capa’s Sister – Paloma Baeza
Children – Archie Macdonald, Sylvie Macdonald

Theatrical Trailer for Sunshine