Kevin Costner as Mr. Earl Brooks
Demi Moore as Detective Tracy Atwood
Dane Cook as Mr. Smith
William Hurt as Marshall
Marg Helgenberger as Emma Brooks
Ruben Santiago-Hudson as Hawkins
Danielle Panabaker as Jane Brooks
Aisha Hinds as Nancy Hart
Lindsay Crouse as Captain Lister
Jason Lewis as Jesse Vialo
Matt Schulze as Thorton Meeks
Yasmine Delawari as Sunday
Reiko Aylesworth as Jesse’s Lawyer
Michael Cole as Atwood’s Lawyer
Directed by Bruce A. Evans
There are a few original ideas in this new spin on the serial killer thriller, but they tend to get bogged down in a plot that’s slow, convoluted and even more schizophrenic than Mr. Brooks himself.
Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner) is a well-respected businessman and a loving husband and father, who just so happens to also be a brutal, methodical serial killer who has never been caught until a photographer (Dane Cook) gets pictures of him in the act and threatens to reveal his secret unless he takes him along on his next killing. Meanwhile, a tough detective (Demi Moore) is trying to catch the killer while dealing with a bitter divorce and other more dangerous problems.
You don’t have to wait too long while watching this psychological thriller before the big reveal that Kevin Costner’s highly-lauded business magnate Earl Brooks has a secret addiction to killing people. Even before we see him in action, we learn how this secret affects him in the form of William Hurt’s Marshall, a talkative alter ego who acts as Brooks’ bad conscious, egging him on to do these very bad things. This idea was just as interesting when used in “Fight Club” and “Harvey,” but here it’s revealed way too early and then it’s quickly overused to the point where it gets tiresome. Obviously, director Bruce A. Evans, who’s written many strong movies and a couple weaker ones, knows where the money lies in his twist on the serial killer genre, and that’s in the interplay between Kevin Coster and William Hurt as the good and evil within this conflicted family man. It’s not a bad role for Costner, because we get to see him playing with a few more emotions and moods than we’ve seen from him in the past, but for the most part, he’s a bit too soft and sympathetic in the role, which is why it’s good to have Hurt around as the bad guy, to take the heat off Costner while continuing down the path he began in Cronenberg’s “A History of Violence.”
Essentially, Marshall appears in most of the scenes having side conversations with Mr. Brooks as he deals with his own conscience and desire to give up killing, but that plan hits a stumbling block when a photographer played by Dane Cook blackmails Brooks into including him in his next killing. Cook isn’t bad as the pesky tagalong in his first dramatic role, and the shaky relationship between the duo adds another level to the tense relationship between Brooks and his alter ego, but Marshall probably puts it best when he says, “He could be funny and charming and I still wouldn’t like him.” It’s almost like Marshall is saying exactly what we, the viewer, is thinking, because Cook might only be bearable if you’re already a fan of his neurotic overly-caffeinated personality.
The last player in the story is Demi Moore’s Detective Tracy Atwood, the criminal profiler who has been trailing Brooks (known as “The Thumbprint Killer”) for years, and has been having difficulty settling a messy divorce case with her ex-husband who wants a sizeable chunk of her trust fund. (At first, you may wonder how he can possibly expect to get a $1.5 million settlement from a police detective, but it’s explained soon enough.) Even if her character is very much a stereotype in the mold of Clarice Starling or Angelina Jolie’s character from “Taking Lives,” it’s a fine return to form by Moore as a tough female character who might have been just as interesting a character to follow as Brooks and his associates.
For a purported thriller, “Mr. Brooks” is fairly tame, not offering anything really surprising or shocking after Brooks’ first on-screen murders, his weapon of choice making it fairly quick work. Otherwise, the movie is very slow, consisting mainly of talking heads scenes between the various characters and a ridiculous number of overlapping subplots, many of which don’t seem particularly necessary to tell the main story, which should be about how Mr. Brooks copes with his addiction and his alter ego. The tone switches drastically whenever Costner is dealing with his drama at home involving his daughter Jane, leading to another tangential subplot, but they also needlessly try to build-up Moore’s character with excessive conflicts. At the same time as this mess divorce, she also has to contend with an escaped serial killer trying to get revenge on her for putting him away. It gets confusing as Atwood is looking for Brooks one moment and the next she’s off after this other escaped killer. This latter part offers the movie’s only real action scenes, all of which come from out of nowhere as if Evans realizes he’s losing people with the amount of talking and needs to throw in a few shootouts and the like to show how tough Moore is as a police officer. (Her partner is noticeably absent whenever she’s caught in these conflicts.)
It just doesn’t seem like a very well developed or structured script–holding off the Costner/Hurt relationship for thirty minutes would have helped greatly–and the standard dialogue is only elevated by the fact that Evans has such a strong cast delivering it, with Hurt clearly getting the best role and lines, as he voices his opinion on everything going around Brooks and offers his malignant advice. Unfortunately, he also telegraphs a lot of what’s going to happen and what Brooks is going to do, and there aren’t any interesting twists or scares until the very end, when we finally get to see Costner show Brooks’ evil without Hurt acting as his crutch. It’s another one of those cases where nothing happens for so long that something had to happen eventually or one might feel cheated. Still, it’s a shame that with two of the ’90s strongest dramatic actors in Costner and Moore, we never get to see a single scene of the two on-screen together, something that would have certainly added another level to the movie and seems like a missed opportunity.
The Bottom Line:
“Mr. Brooks” isn’t the worst thriller ever made, though there’s a certain ’90s throwback quality to it that takes away from it feeling particularly new or innovative. If you feel the need to see yet another twist on the serial killer genre than “Mr. Brooks” offers a few things to make it worthwhile, particularly the interplay between Costner and Hurt as the title character, but the convoluted plot and plodding pace kills any sense of there being any actual thrills involved.