They promise them freedom, but they themselves
are slaves of corruption; for people are slaves to
whatever masters them. For if, after they have
escaped the defilements of the world through
the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus
Christ, they are again entangled in them and
overpowered, the last state has become worse
for them than the first. For it would have been
better for them never to have known the way of
righteousness than, after knowing it, to turn back
from the holy commandment that was passed on t
o them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb,
‘The dog turns back to its own vomit’,
and, ‘The sow is washed only to wallow in the mud.’
2 Peter 2:19-22
The opening of this film reminds me of Woody Allen’s great film Crimes and Misdemeanors, with the protagonist attending a banquet at which he is being given an award for his many good community deeds. In this case it is Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner), successful manufacturer, with his beautiful wife at his side, being given the Man of the Year Award by his fellow businessmen. However, that very night he feels the strong compulsion that he has been successfully resisting for two years. He utters the Serenity Prayer and attends AA meetings as part of his struggle against it, but his dark alter ego Marshall, played by William Hurt, eggs him on to act on his impulse—which is to kill. After shooting a man and a woman engaged in lovemaking, we learn that this seemingly mild-mannered businessman is a serial killer, so clever that he has never been caught.
Never caught until tonight, that is, when he goes over to close the drapes of the large bedroom window of the murdered lovers. It seems that the couple enjoyed showing off their sexual prowess, and across the street an amateur photographer, who had each night been snapping pictures of the lovemaking, catches Earl with his lens. Recognizing the killer from the newspaper photographs of the awards dinner, Mr. Smith ((Dane Cook) ), as he calls himself, is soon in touch with Earl. However, he is not interested in blackmail money, but wants to accompany the killer on his next foray. Earl had vowed that this would be his last murder, but it seems he has no choice, or does he? Meanwhile, police detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore) patiently is scouring the area of the double slaying for clues and possible eyewitnesses, one of the latter being Mr. Smith. Her cop instincts tell her that the young man is holding something back.
Earl continues to struggle against his demonic impulse and to keep his alternate life a secret from his wife Emma (Marg Helgenberger) and rebellious daughter Jane (Danielle Panabaker). When the latter suddenly drops out of college following a campus axe murder, Earl becomes worried that his daughter shares the same driving impulse that has upended his life. How he deals with this and the persistent Mr. Smith who wants to experience the ultimate rush of killing a human being, while also staying ahead of the policewoman, will keep you on edge. This is not one of those reassuring films, but rather one that leaves you wondering where in the world is the God of justice and mercy. Kevin Costner takes on a role very different from the likeable guys he played in Field of Dreams and Dances With Wolves.
1) Were you surprised by Kevin Costner’s Earl? What did you expect when you first saw and heard him praying the Serenity Prayer? Do you think he means it?
2) Do you think this film could have been made in the old days when “The Code” ruled Hollywood? How did you feel at the end of the film? Any sign of hope?
3) The press notes quote the following from R.L. Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: “All human beings…are co-mingled out of good and evil.” How do you see this in your own life? What is it that helps you keep the Marshalls in your life under control?
4)What does the film do to the view underlying most films