At the heart of “Mr Brooks” lies a fascinating, gripping thriller about a man torn between his good natured persona and his evil alter-ego who needs his thirst for murder quenched on a constant basis. The sequences involving Mr Brooks and his alter-ego are the best in the film, and are downright creepy. Kevin Costner does an amicable job as the nice guy Brooks while William Hurt is chilling as his imaginary, psychotic alter-ego who urges Brooks to kill. The story of how his daughter may have picked up his “sickness” is also a nice touch, as is the idea of him taking on an apprentice who catches Brooks out one night killing a couple and threatens to go to the police if he doesn’t take him on his killing spree. A story like this is fascinating, just like others of its type like “Silence of the Lambs” or “Seven”, where we are drawn in to this dark world in the safe environment of the movie theatre. Unfortunately, much of the steam is taken out of this film by the Demi Moore police detective subplot. It distracts our attention too much away from the main event to the point where you wonder if it really should have been its own film. This is a thriller that thrills when its main protagonist is on the screen but is somewhat dull when he’s not, making for a film that only get three quarters of the way there; it’s entertaining, but with a bit more focus in the screenplay and a better integration of Demi Moore’s role, it would have been excellent.
One of the things this film does that sets it apart from other serial killer films is that the psychotic and normal aspects of our central character is split in to two people. This makes for a fascinating, and creepy dynamic where we see Brooks having some rather ‘interesting’ discussions with his alter-ego even though none of the other characters can see him doing it. Aside from being disturbing (yet fun) to watch, it also shows that Brooks’ alter-ego, played magnificently by William Hurt, has a lot of strong qualities to him such as his intelligence, wit and sharp analysis of any given situation; it’s just a shame he needs to get off on killing people. It’s a reminder of how we have those dark sides in all of us and movies like this allow us to explore this idea safely. What caps everything off however is the idea that Brooks is tortured; he is addicted to killing and he wants to stop which isn’t made easy with his alter-ego laughing at his every attempt to shake his addiction.
A few interesting twists on the genre are presented in the film; the idea of the serial killer gene being passed on to the next generation, in this case, when Brooks realises his daughter has killed a fellow student at college. Disturbed by how she lies her way out of it to him, it puts Brooks in the unusual position of killing someone to deflect the attention away from his daughter, and creates a new dynamic in the serial killer film. Another great notion is the idea of Brooks taking on an apprentice who is really out of his depth. Quite often we don’t get the perspective of the killer in these movies and this allows for a dark opportunity to demonstrate this, especially as Brooks lays out just how meticulous he is in researching and studying his victims so that he can simultaneously get the most enjoyment from the act while never leaving any evidence that he was the killer. His first rule: “Never kill any one you know. It can always be traced back to you.”
Kevin Costner is pretty much playing what he always plays with this character, and it’s a good thing that the evil side of his persona was given to William Hurt because it’s hard to see how he could have pulled that off on his own. I will give him this however; the sequence where Brooks turns on his new apprentice towards the end is downright chilling, including one spectacular close-up shot of Brooks’ face when you realise how Brooks set up everything with his apprentice so that he would get the blame for being the serial killer. In a rare occurrence, this sequence gave the film a twist ending that actually didn’t feel contrived or even that surprising, although it is highly effective and dramatic.
There are a couple of big missteps in this film. I’ve already mentioned the subplot involving Demi Moore’s police detective. The problem with it is that you can see how her character is meant to work in the story but it’s just not focused properly; it meanders and distracts from the main event in Brooks himself, and you can’t wait until he gets back on screen even though Moore is doing a pretty good job performing her character. This ‘takes you out of the film’ quality is best exemplified when the action sequences start in her plot line; it becomes noisy and uncharacteristic of the rest of the film which is much more subtle and quiet. It’s hard to say whether or not they expanded the role to accommodate Ms Moore or not, but it does take you out of the film, even though it eventually ties in with Brooks’ storyline. One other misstep is in one of the final sequences where Brooks has a very disturbing nightmare of his daughter turning on him, killing him with a pair of scissors. For a film that’s quite intelligent and psychological, and where from the outset the actual killing scenes are not that bloody (and are in fact downplayed), to see his daughter stab Brooks in the throat and then watch the blood splurt everywhere around the room (almost turning his white walls to red) is out of step with the tone of the rest of the film. It gives you a nice jolt, I’ll grant you that, but so does a cattle-prod. Something quicker and more subtle would have worked much better and stayed in the spirit of the rest of the film.
“Mr Brooks” is an entertaining thriller when it does thrill; it’s a shame a bit more work wasn’t done on the script to integrate Demi Moore’s role better (as it was necessary) otherwise this film would have been first-rate.
For the complete, original DVD review, click this link: http://www.allaboutmovies.net/dvdreviewmrbrooks.htm
Alex DeMattia is the lead DVD reviewer at the film/DVD review web site All About Movies.net. He also contributes reviews and articles for the Digicosm Film Blog: http://www.filmannex.com/Digicosm