Mr. Brooks (Kevin Costner) is businessman of the year in Portland, Oregon. His adoring wife, Emma (Marg Helgenberger, TV’s “CSI”) looks on as he receives his award for running a successful box manufacturing company. But Mr. Brooks has a secret; he likes to kill people and his alter ego, Marshall (William Hurt) will not let him escape this addiction, goading him to kill again and again. He tells his wife he is going out to the pottery studio to glaze some pots when in fact, he is staking out and figuring out how to kill his next victim. When the alter ego convinces him to kill again, independently wealthy detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore) realizes the Thumbprint Killer has returned. But Mr. Brooks desperately wants to lead a normal life, which means he has to struggle to stop the killing, and ‘Mr. Smith’ (Dane Cook) might just be the answer; he has pictures of Mr. Brooks killing the last couple, a pair of lovers he was spying on anyway, and confronts the businessman/ killer. He doesn’t want money; he wants to be shown how to kill, for the thrill of it. As Mr. Brooks is trying to escape this addiction, this isn’t necessarily good news. As all of this happens, Mr. and Mrs. Brooks daughter, Jane (Danielle Panabaker) returns home from college, dropping out because she is pregnant. But that isn’t all she is hiding.
“Mr. Brooks” is better than you might think. It is a good movie, telling an involving, complicated story, with a lot of plot twists. Most of these twists resolve nicely in the end. Yes, there are a couple that don’t connect, and this mars the film. But the film also deserves credit for its tongue-in-cheek narrative; “Brooks” takes some ‘narrative license’ and seems to challenge you to laugh at it. The good outweighs the bad, but just barely.
Costner goes dark with his role as Mr. Brooks. It is always a little interesting to see a movie star play against his established persona and here Costner takes on the seldom seen dark side of a character. As Mr. Brooks, he is a successful businessman, very successful judging from the look of his corporate headquarters, they look like they were designed by Frank Gehry. But he has this little addiction he has to deal with. To help with it, he attends AA meetings and verbally spars with Marshall, his alter ego.
We get the idea that Mr. Brooks is a very careful killer. He thinks out every detail, which is how he has eluded the police for so many years. When he returns from a murder, there is a plastic sheet laid out at the precise spot he will step out of his car. He immediately removes his shoes and clothes and takes the clothing to the pottery kiln (an elaborate machine that looks more like a crematorium) and disposes of them. He is such a careful killer that he has even taken up the hobby which he uses as a cover.
But he also wants a normal life, and starts to feel resentful that he doesn’t have this. So he starts to get sloppy, perhaps in an effort to convince Marshall he should stop or they might get caught. He forgets to pull the curtains of his last kill, which leads to Mr. Smith’s pictures and a wrinkle to his plan.
When Mr. Brooks completes the kill, he shakes a bit with near orgasmic pleasure. This is where I began to have a problem with Costner’s performance. This is a hammy role, but there is a fine line between acceptable hammy and just plain hammy. Mr. Brooks already has an alter ego, whom we see and he talks to. They chat, laugh together and exchange ideas and barbs. This is hammy enough, but it works. I get the idea they are trying to put across with Brooks’ orgasmic shaking. But it just seems silly. It isn’t enough that he has this little shake. He has it again after he strips his body and stands naked in front of his kiln. If a film is going to play fast and loose with the characters, there is a limit and this moment goes beyond that.
At one point, Mr. Brooks tells his wife “I’m going to try out some glazes on a pot. I have this Chinese glaze I’m trying to get just right” and she accepts this and goes to bed. Of course, Brooks is using this as an excuse, to get out of the house and satisfy his addiction. This line of dialogue would probably make most people laugh, but all of the characters deliver and react to these types of lines with such seriousness that they seem perfectly natural.
William Hurt plays Marshall, Brooks’s alter ego. Appearing when the businessman needs confirmation, or as a sounding board for his problems, he goads Mr. Brooks into feeding his hunger. But like any true psychotic, he also has a mind of his own and pushes Brooks to do things against his will. This is a superb showcase for Hurt. Much like his brief role in David Cronenberg’s “A History of Violence”, Marshall is a memorable, off the wall performance that will be one of the most memorable things about “Mr. Brooks”. At one point, as Marshall and Brooks are talking, they turn to each other and start laughing hysterically.
Demi Moore plays a detective who has been tracking the Thumbprint Killer for years. Just as he reappears, and it looks like the investigation will continue, her impending divorce from her younger, philandering restaurateur husband threatens to sideline her. He is trying to extract every penny he can from her, and his lawyer seems to be holding out for $5 million dollars. As this storyline continued to cut a swath through the film, I was getting ready to turn to my companion and ask “Where in the hell does a police detective have enough money to pay her spouse $1.5 million dollars in a divorce?” Then the film establishes how and why this is possible. Yes, they tie it in, but it also seems like an unnecessary distraction. Then there is also the problem of another killer she helped put away. See, that killer has just escaped and could be out trying to find and kill her. This distraction plays better and ties into the rest of the story more completely.
As Moore’s character investigates, and deals with her divorce, we realize she is a very complex character, and I’m sure this attracted her to the role. She does a good job, but she doesn’t seem to be a very good detective. And there are just too many things going on with her character.
My biggest problem with “Mr. Brooks” lies with his daughter. Jane returns home from school, ready to quit after only a few months. As she makes her case to her parents, Marshall turns to Brooks and says, “She’s hiding something”. She’s actually hiding two things and to talk about either would reveal too much about the plot. I won’t do that. But this is another case where this storyline is not tied in as well to the rest. Because of this, this character just doesn’t work and brings down the rest of the film.
Dane Cook is surprisingly good as Mr. Smith, the smarmy voyeur who stumbles onto Mr. Brooks and realizes he may have a way to finally realize the ultimate thrill. As he explains his proposal to Brooks, he is extremely confident, but as they go about the ‘training’, he becomes more nervous and nervous. Then, when he participates for the first time, he is thrilled and quickly becomes addicted.
Perhaps the best thing about “Mr. Brooks” is the fact that even with all of these story lines; most are tied into the main story very nicely, providing a tight, amusing, mostly satisfying ending. The writer and director have done a nice job of making almost all of these story lines connect. Too bad they didn’t exactly tie up everything, and make the ‘daughter’ storyline more believable. If they had, the film would be a great example of suspense. But because this part of the film falls flat, “Mr. Brooks” is just barely worth seeing.
The daughter storyline and Costner’s hammy overacting almost completely derail the film. As it is, it is worth a bargain matinee.