Judge Daniel MacDonald says this one's much better than the menswear thriller, Mr. Brooks Brothers.
Our review of Mr. Brooks (Blu-Ray), published December 6th, 2007, is also available.
Everyone has two sides: the one they show—and the one they hide.
Addiction often makes for good cinema, its inherent drama—man vs. himself—capable of elevating even the most mundane premise into a dark look at human nature. But what if serial killing were an addiction? That's the query Mr. Brooks sets out to explore.
Facts of the Case
Portland's Man of the Year, Mr. Brooks (Kevin Costner, Revenge) is a loving family man, wealthy from his box-manufacturing business, who likes to while away his evenings in his pottery studio. But Mr. Brooks is also an addict; his addiction is killing. Prompted by his inner voice, Marshall (William Hurt, A History of Violence), Mr. Brooks can be a highly effective, detail-oriented killing machine when he wants to be—and, oh, how he wants to be, despite the AA meetings he attends and the serenity prayer he regularly recites. But when a thrill-seeking neighbor (Dane Cook, Employee of the Month) photographs him at the scene of a murder, Mr. Brooks' highly treasured secret threatens to be revealed, especially with tenacious Detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore, Ghost) on the case.
Mr. Brooks must have been a hell of a movie to develop a marketing strategy for, because I've never seen anything quite like it. The repentant killer looking for a career change, the murderer trying to hide his grim activities—these themes are nothing new, but they also have been successfully subverted by this strikingly confident picture. Instead of looking at serial killing through some hip satiric lens, writing team Bruce Evans and Raynold Gideon, who together penned Starman, Stand By Me, and Kuffs (the latter of which Evans also directed, as he did here), have crafted a clever yet straightforward thriller. In the process, they have created a character who is truly addicted to killing in the classic sense. He attends meetings, he tries desperately to stop, but yet can't seem to say no to his imaginary alter ego, Marshall, entertainingly played by a William Hurt who seems to be getting more and more into Christopher Walken territory with each picture.
Mr. Brooks is entertaining and satisfying from the very beginning, with extremely well-defined characters, a labyrinthine plot that keeps you from thinking too far ahead, and all the efficiency of a Swiss watch. The story is novelistic, with nearly every character having a life of their own that ultimately comes to bear on the main events, yet these diversions seem neither excessive nor too convenient. Instead, as when we read a good book, we enjoy the time we get to spend with the individuals, and trust that the rest will sort itself out. On the home front, we gladly watch Brooks broker peace between his recent college dropout daughter and affectionate wife (Marg Helgenberger, Species), not expecting his home life to play into the overarching story (although it does). Similarly, Moore's character of Detective Atwood is given a believable and engaging backstory that adds immensely to the role's complexity, making this potentially the comeback she was hoping for with Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. The biggest problem, in my experience, with films so well populated with rich characters is that satisfying endings can be rare. On this front, too, Mr. Brooks comes through with a wrap-up that is everything that I hoped for.
The primary quandary, that of Brooks trying to quit killing despite Marshall's urgings to continue, is fascinating mostly because of how genuinely devoted to his family Brooks is. There's no façade or insincerity to his home life; indeed, if Brooks had his druthers, he would work his day job and look after his wife and daughter (who has a much more interesting character arc than you would initially assume), and would be happy with that. But the urge to kill is just too much for him sometimes and he becomes powerless to it, forcing his hand despite the immense pleasure he gets from the act itself. It is precisely this complication of character that makes Brooks someone we want to spend time with, because when he's in murder mode, it can get pretty ugly.
Yes, despite the family-friendly resume of the writers and director involved, this is a wholly adult-oriented film, with graphic, startling violence along with a healthy dose of sex and coarse language. There is nothing cute about the executions Mr. Brooks carries out, which is what makes the serial killing as addiction—somewhat ludicrous on its own—a successful conceit. We see parallels between Brooks' struggle and the struggles of those fighting additions to drugs or alcohol, and can accept that our protagonist is as disgusted as we are at his actions.
The character of Marshall, the physical embodiment of Brooks' angst-ridden psyche, provides a compelling window into his internal struggle, and Mr. Brooks clearly sets out the cinematic rules of his exchanges quite early in the film: Brooks will often disengage from a conversation with real people to mull things over with Marshall, but no matter how animated the imaginary discourse gets, it's all an intellectual exercise. Brooks doesn't suffer from any sort of multiple-personality disorder, and he is always in control: the most Marshall can offer is an opinion, making Brooks always ultimately responsible for his actions, just like anyone with a monkey on his back.
Mr. Brooks lives and dies on the performance of the titular character, and Costner knocks this one out of the park. He's all layered nuance and imposed suaveness here, balancing a confident exterior with a tumultuous interior; his exchanges with Dane Cook elevate the younger actor's limited range. Costner commits unequivocally to the script and the character, trusting that no matter how vile his actions, we'll want to see what happens next because the story is so damn compelling. It's nice to see that Costner continues to stretch as an actor and an artist when he could easily be coasting on past success.
The DVD features an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer that I assume will look significantly better than the pixilated, over-compressed check disc provided for our review purposes. The audio, however, is most impressive, with an excellent 5.1 DTS track with increased dynamic range and timbre over its Dolby Digital brethren. Mr. Brooks has been deliberately mixed so that gunshots—which happen relatively infrequently but are always significant—are substantially louder and more aggressive than the rest of the audio, and your home theater will thank you for your investment.
Special features, as is often the case, are a mixed bag. About seven minutes of deleted scenes offer a few insights into the characters as scripted, but their inclusion in the final product would have been a serious misstep. A handful of other featurettes provide some interesting tidbits on development—for example, Costner called Mr. Brooks one of only four perfect scripts he has ever read—and production, but are mostly talking heads that devolve rather quickly into the dreaded mutual admiration society. The audio commentary with writer Gideon and writer/director Evans, on the other hand, is jam-packed with interesting information, the two often talking over each other in their desire to get across a tidbit or observation. It's a dense but enjoyable listen for fans of the film.
Despite being a tough tale to market or even properly encapsulate, Mr. Brooks is an underrated gem of a picture featuring a gloriously original script and a pitch-perfect performance from one Kevin Costner. Check this one out.
Oh, he's guilty all right, but still free to go.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Bruce Evans and Raynold Gideon
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