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Addicted to Murder? Buddy, Who Isn’t?

All filmgoing males have a complicated relationship with Kevin Costner. You don't need to appreciate the romance of baseball (and I don't) to hallelujah to dialogue like this: I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of … Read More

By / June 18, 2007

All filmgoing males have a complicated relationship with Kevin Costner. You don't need to appreciate the romance of baseball (and I don't) to hallelujah to dialogue like this:

I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman's back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.

And no commie son of mine has ever managed to sit with a dry eye through Field of Dreams either. Too bad the leathery Midwestern everyman has flagged outside the dugout. It looked for a while as if Costner had reached the point of diminishing cinematic returns. His performance in JFK was the least plausible thing about that frenetic and ill-paced tribute to conspiracy theory. Robin Hood? Is this Sherwood Forest? No, it's Iowa. "He has feathers in his hair," wrote Pauline Kael of Dances with Wolves, "and feathers in his head."

My question, however, is this: Why didn't anyone ever think of casting Costner as a serial killer before? He's great in Mr. Brooks.

Costner plays a Catholic millionaire box manufacturer who moonlights in Portland, the city that has just named him man of the year, as a homicide fetishist with an obsessive-compulsive attention to avoiding capture. (And to think I almost wore my high concept today, too. Wouldn't that have been embarrassing.) To outward appearances, he's a devoted husband and father. But he attends AA meetings in the hopes that a little universal twelve-step discipline can quell the "hunger" to kill, embodied by his warped alter ego "Marshall" (William Hurt, having way too much fun). Apart from his losing struggle with a messy addiction, life seems to be going smoothly for Mr. Brooks until he caps a fornicating couple who leave their curtains open, an infraction worthy of their punishment. He's photographed and blackmailed by an unwashed shlub played by Dane Cook, who wants neither justice nor money but in on all the psychosexual fun. He shadows the elusive "thumb-print" killer to mounting dissatisfaction: Brook is all foreplay, no orgasm. The trouble is, he works alone and only when he's inspired — you can't force the art of offing. But try telling that to Dane Cook.

I won't give too much else away except to say that Costner's ho-hum blankness (the box-making profession might have been a casting agent's idea of parody) excels here the way Adam Sandler's manchild did in Punch-Drunk Love. Inner menace is matter-of-fact with lousy actors.

The success of Mr. Brooks also hints at a new trend in dark entertainment: underplaying the cold-blooded killer rather than camping him up. Anthony Hopkins never even thought about sucking his teeth as the jilted but breezy husband in Fracture. Michael C. Hall's tortured forensic investigator in Dexter is the kind of night slasher you might like to have a beer with. In this case, it helps that Costner's permanent equilibrium is part of Mr. Brooks' problem: he knows better and genuinely wants to quit. He's not given to ultraviolent rages or deranged speechifying. He's morally complicated and, well, not particularly scary as a sociopath. Almost a nice guy, really.

I guess in the age of sacred terror, the corpse-making nextdoor neighbor, the genius cannibal, and the chainsaw-wielding mutant fail to send shivers up the spine the way they used to. Either that or, after decades of splattered karo syrup congealing into box office lucre, movie murderers have finally come into their own in American culture. They're way ahead of those poor Geico cavemen. They've raised consciousness and blood pressure, and they've been accepted.

The next meeting we'll see Mr. Brooks attending will be for Concerned Serial Killers of America.

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