Married company director Earl Brooks (Costner) leads a double life as the Thumbprint Killer, driven by a demonic inner self, Marshall (Hurt). But a stupid mistake puts an amateur photographer (Cook) and a tenacious detective (Moore) on his trail…
Back in the early ’90s, few would have described Kevin Costner as compelling. The star of such white-bread heroic fare as Field Of Dreams, he was also, as evidenced in 1991’s In Bed With Madonna, sickeningly wholesome.
But from Clint Eastwood’s A Perfect World onwards, Costner began offering fascinating studies in flawed Everymen. And while Open Range’s Civil War killer and The Upside Of Anger’s boozy pitcher felt like familiar Costner territory, his portrayal of a millionaire who’s also a schizophrenic psycho might well be the performance of his career.
Owner of the fittingly square Brooks Box Factory, Costner’s anti-hero is a smart, in-control businessman with an adoring wife (CSI’s Marg Helgenberger) and a daughter (Danielle Panabaker) in college.
But from an opening scene in which Brooks recites the Twelve-Step Serenity Prayer into a washroom mirror, we realise all this composure is merely keeping the demons in check. Lurking in the shadows, as Mr. and Mrs. B. return from a business banquet, is his dark half, Marshall (Hurt), suggesting a little out-of-office double-murder. Part childlike id, part fatherly superego, Marshall is the film’s masterstroke.
Like Costner, Hurt has lost his beatific blond ’80s looks, replaced by a bloodless pallor that was perfectly utilised in Cronenberg’s A History Of Violence. Here he looks like Death, a wheedling, mocking incubus who’s a joy to watch. “C’mon,” he drawls, knowing that Brooks has been attending AA meetings to dampen his ‘desires’, “You deserve a treat!”
Costner and Hurt’s double-act is so elegantly developed it’s a real blow when screenwriters Bruce A. Evans and Reynold Gideon pile on noisy sub-plots. Dane Cook brings a nefarious glint to his “Mr. Smith”, blackmailing Brooks into murder lessons, but Moore’s wooden Det. Atwood is a narrative mess - a millionaire cop undergoing a divorce and marked for death by a meth-crazy serial killer! When it’s revealed that Brooks’ daughter might also have inherited her father’s ‘passions‘ you doubt for the film’s survival, but Marshall and Earl deal with every obstacle like sardonic script-doctors, commenting on the goofy twists while reaching for some kind of resolution.
In the end, despite Demi Moore and your own sense of decency, you want the deadly duo to succeed and, as Marshall succinctly puts it, “go on with our tortured lives”.
Although flawed, this remains a blackly funny noir treat thanks to Costner and Hurt’s double-act.