Mr Brooks (2007) – No Sympathy for this Drivel…

mr brooks 2

They say the Devil gets all the best lines, which is perhaps why most actors are drawn to the darker side of human nature during their careers.  It is often the actors with a “nice guy” image that make the most startling transformation – one of James Stewart’s finest films was Vertigo, playing out Hitchcock’s fetishes as the obsessive cop Scottie Ferguson; Henry Fonda’s warm blue eyes famously because the stone-cold glare of a killer in Leone’s Once Upon A Time in The West.

It doesn’t always work out, though – Jim Carrey in capable of playing baddies and morally dubious characters, but his misguided The Number 23 stank out theatres the same year as Kevin Costner potrayed a serial killer in Mr Brooks.  Carrey’s alter-ego looked just like an evil Ace Ventura, and was impossible to take seriously.

Mr Brooks isn’t much better, but luckily Costner is an inspired choice as the title character, a successful businessman who aso happens to be a meticulous serial killer.  Costner has played bad guys in the past, most notably as an escaped convict in Eastwood’s A Perfect World, but is usually associated with upstanding, honest types – Eliot Ness in The Untouchables; Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams; Jim Garrison in JFK.

Costner’s acting career has been on the wane since the Waterworld debacle almost twenty years ago, and the subsequent bomb The Postman a few years later, so it is refreshing to see him try a different angle.  Unfortunately, he landed in Mr Brooks.

Earl Brooks runs a factory and lives in a gorgeous house with his gorgeous wife (Marg Helgenberger, little to do other than look gorgeous).  He has just been nominated Man of the Year by the chamber of commerce.  His evil alter-ego, Marshall (William Hurt) appears and persuades Brooks that he deserves a little fun to celebrate.  Brooks is also a serial killer, although he hasn’t killed for two years (Well done, you!) and has been attending twelve-step meetings to help kick the habit.  As Dr Evil might say: Riiiiiight!

Mr Brooks 1

Brooks gives in, and he and Marshall select their victims.  As the notorious “Thumbprint Killer”, Brooks’ M.O is gunning down young couples while they’re having sex, and arranging them in amorous poses.  Having tooled up in his batcave-like serial killer den, he heads off for a night’s murdering, and has a jolly good time too.

Unfortunately, Mr Brooks has been sloppy this time, leaving the curtains open while he is doing his thing.  The couple liked leaving the curtains open while they were shagging, which hadn’t escaped the notice of the pervert across the way (Dane Cook).  The peeping tom, “Mr Smith”, blackmails Mr Brooks with photos taken of the killer in the apartment.

Mr Smith doesn’t want money, though.  He wants to tag along on Mr Brooks’ next murder so he can experience the thrill of the kill.

From this point, the storyline becomes even more preposterous.  Demi Moore shows up as the investigating detective, who also happens to be a multi-millionaire.  Mr Brooks’ daughter drops out of college, having hacked up someone with a hatchet – it’s in the blood, you know.  Brooks takes a detour to the college to commit another murder to make it look like another serial killer is at large, and create an alibi for his little princess.

Mr Brooks is perhaps one of the oddest studio films of the past decade, seemingly created by people who saw real life out of a window once, but had to fill in the gaps with what they saw in TV & movies.  I couldn’t tell whether it was supposed to be a deadpan serial killer comedy, or a retro-fitted serial killer thriller which seems to pre-date Seven, or even Silence of the Lambs in the casting and production design.

It doesn’t work as either, and one suspects that the producers (including Costner) envisaged the film to be far darker, whackier and more anarchic than it actually is.  In the world of Mr Brooks, everyone seems to be a serial killer or wannabe serial killer.  We are uneasily asked to sympathise with Brooks, just because Mr Smith is blackmailing him and isn’t as smooth and charming as the seasoned murderer.

Perhaps I’m desensitised by the past decade of graphic murders in horror films, from The Devil’s Rejects to Saw to Hostel, but the killings in Mr Brooks felt quite tame.  Only a brutal false ending provides a genuine jolt.  It also looks so clean and dated –  Seven changed the aesethic of serial killer movies, with its single light sources and grungy, filthy locations.  The Silence of the Lambs hinted at it a few years earlier with Buffalo Bill’s nightmarish basement lair, but the rest Lambs looks so glossy after John Doe’s moralistic killing spree, and Jigsaw’s grimy labyrinths of fiendish death.

Set in immaculate apartments and houses in a smug middle-class world, Mr Brooks looks like a movie that has time travelled from the Eighties, and has more in common visually with Fatal Attraction and Jagged Edge than contemporary killer thrillers.  The retro vibe continues with the cast list – Costner, Hurt, and Demi Moore, whose career took a similar downward trajectory around the same time as Costner’s.

The blame for this must lay with director and co-writer Bruce A Evans, whose biggest hit was the coming-of-age drama Stand By Me (1986).  Mr Brooks is so out-of-touch that it seems Evans must be stuck in the Eighties and wilfully ignored the next two decades of cinema since his best film.

Luckily, Costner makes the most of an unappealing character.  The businessman Mr Brooks is calm, buttoned up and doesn’t give much away – it is noticeable that his spectacles perform a similar function to Clark Kent’s specs in Superman.  Brooks seems to consider his glasses a disguise, and takes them off when he switches to madman mode.  You can tell Costner’s enjoying himself as bad Mr Brooks, with that wolfish smile and glint in his eye, and he shares decent chemistry with Hurt.

The device of having Brooks’ alter ego Marshall portrayed by another actor is a bit theatrical, but these wily old veterans pull it off.  Costner & Hurt make an appealing double act, and their scenes are carefully staged to even if Brooks is looking at another person while talking to Marshall, it is always clear who he is communicating with.

Mr Brooks has developed a cult following since its release – even the usually snooty Slant Magazine recognised its potential as an unintentional camp classic.  If you approach it in those terms, you might enjoy it more than if you went in cold expecting a straight horror thriller – relish the silly plot twists, the 80’s revival cast, the silly wigs and moustaches in Mr Brooks’ disguise kit – just don’t expect it to make much sense.



About leerobertadams

Lee is an English writer, blogger and film critic living in Brno, Czech Republic. When not watching and writing about movies, he loves football, reading, eating out, and enjoying his adopted home city with his girlfriend and baby daughter.

Posted on 26/04/2014, in cinema, Entertainment, Film, Horror, Movies, Reviews, Thriller and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Good review. Costner really carried this movie along. Even when it seemed to get too over-the-top for its own good, it still kept me interested.

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