Mr. Brooks (2007)

Mr. Brooks first published by Film4

Summary: Kevin Costner and William Hurt star as different aspects of a conflicted character in Bruce A. Evans’ multi-faceted psycho thriller.

Review: Cleancut, earnest, and just a little bland, Kevin Costner has constructed a highly successful career playing the gentle pioneer, the homespun baseball enthusiast, the unassuming hero and the dishy man-next-door. As appealing as this image may be, it is also readily amenable to subversion: in the twisty thriller No Way Out (1986), Costner’s outward sincerity is used to conceal a treacherous double-agent from characters and viewers alike; and once again in Mr. Brooks he preserves his well-managed image of respectability only by constantly covering a trail of murder. 

Recently named ‘Man of the Year’, Mr Earl Brooks (Costner) is all at once a successful businessman, a generous philanthropist, a devoted husband, a loving father, a glazing hobbyist – and a compulsive serial killer. So far it has been possible for Brooks to keep apart these conflicting aspects of his personality because, as someone who has built up his own box-making company, he has perfected the art of compartmentalising. When he is not playing the family man, he lets his alter ego Marshall (William Hurt) take over and furnish the killer instincts.

One night, however, Brooks’ different worlds threaten to collide. A voyeur (Dane Cook) who witnessed and photographed Brooks in action begins blackmailing him into committing further murders. The determined Detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore) is closing in, even as she is herself being pursued both by her soon-to-be ex-husband (Jason Lewis) and by a second, vengeance-seeking serial killer (Matt Schulze). And Brooks’ daughter Jane (Danielle Panabaker) has just arrived home with the news that she has dropped out of college, is pregnant, and wants to move into her father’s business – whatever that might mean…

Taking its cue (and the form of its title) from Robert Louis Stevenson’s nineteenth century gothic novel The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Mr. Brooks is yet another film which, like That Obscure Object of Desire, Fight Club, Lost Highway, A Tale of Two Sisters, Identity, Switchblade Romance, Last Life in the Universe, Palindromes and Neighbour No. 13 before it, dramatises conflicts of identity by distributing the different aspects of a single character’s personality between different actors. As Brooks’ two-stepping ego and id, Costner and Hurt make a mesmerising on-screen couple, and the scenes which they share, bickering, arguing, cajoling, laughing and comforting together like a pair of old lovers, are what is most likely to guarantee Bruce A. Evans’ film the sort of iconic status previously enjoyed by Silence of the Lambs (1990). If there were any justice in the world, both actors would vie with each other for the 2008 Best Actor Oscar, and end up splitting it between them.

Yet the film’s multi-stranded narrative proves just as schizophrenic – if not quite as winning – as its cool/crazy protagonist. Mr. Brooks feels more like three (or so) films than one, even if all these different plots fall invariably within the same serial killer genre. One minute the film explores Brooks’ inner conflicts as the killer-next-door, the next we see him interacting with other killers (inveterate or would-be), the next we see him playing cat-and-mouse with his equally borderline pursuer, the next we see him sorting out family problems the only way he can – and while such density of plotting ensures that Mr Brooks is always on the move, it also leaves the film without an identifiable core. 

Smart, ingeniously constructed and often darkly funny, Mr Brooks will keep you on the edge of your seat for as long as it is rolling. In the end, however, with so much going on, everything begins to seem just like layer upon layer of padding, and all that you can take away with you is the sense that your attentions have been more divided than conquered. 

VerdictMr. Brooks is a new schizophrenic spin on murder-by-numbers: one fascinating character, two outstanding performances, and subplots too numerous for the film’s coherence or the viewer’s sanity. 

© Anton Bitel