Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner) is a successful, highly regarded Portland, Oregon businessman with a wife (Marg Helgenberger), a daughter (Danielle Panabaker) and a secret: he is also the notorious "Thumbprint Killer." For the past two years, he has silenced his murderous urges through the help of a 12-step program, but when his alter ego, Marshall (William Hurt) returns and taunts Earl about his compulsion to kill, the businessman folds under the pressure and kills a couple during their romantic tryst.
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Earl's daughter, Jane, arrives at his place of business and informs her Dad that she has dropped out of college and would like a job at the company. Soon after, Mr. Smith (Dane Cook) arrives at the office with photographs from Earl's latest kill and intentions to blackmail the businessman, Earl reluctantly agrees to take Mr. Smith along for the next kill.
When the Palo Alto police department arrives to Earl's home to question Jane about a hatchet murder at her former dorm room, Earl suddenly realizes his daughter is just like him and vows to stage a similar crime to steer the authorities away from the young, pregnant dropout.
At this point, Earl again decides he no longer wishes to kill but knows his compulsion is too great. He devises a plan to write a letter of explanation to his family that he is terminally ill and leaving to save them the pain of watching his demise. He researches the history of Detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore), the lead investigator searching for the Thumbprint Killer (Earl) and determines that her soon-to-be-ex husband, Jesse Vialo, will be Mr. Smith's first victim. Mr. Smith, however, is not a seasoned killer and leaves his DNA at the crime scene, foiling the plan completely. Angered, Smith pulls a gun on Mr. Brooks, which Earl considered, only to learn that the firing pin has been bent. Brooks' brush with death makes him realize that DNA will pin the Vialo murder on Mr. Smith and that seeing his grandchild is worth more than walking away from his life.
Best part of story, including ending:
The twists and turns throughout the movie kept me on the edge of my seat wondering what was coming next.
Best scene in story:
The final scene, which featured a nightmare, was a twist I probably should have seen coming but that hit me totally off guard.
Opinion about the main character:
I would be heartless and immoral to say that I cheered for a serial killer because in reality, killing is wrong, but there was a cool smoothness about Earl Brooks that almost left you pulling for him. The movie displayed how easy it is for serial killers to disguise their habits and live normal lives, even if it is scary to think there are killers among us working normal jobs every day.