I wonder if today's audiences are still able to welcome an adult-oriented thriller about morally corrupt people doing the devil's work. "Mr. Brooks" is an odd piece of entertainment, and it requires a viewer flexible enough to journey into the belly of the beast and somehow enjoy it. Me? I found it irresistible at times.
Mr. Brooks (Kevin Costner) is a mild-mannered businessman with a loving wife (Marg Helgenberger) and a troubled teen daughter (Danielle Panabaker). He's also a meticulous serial killer, fighting a voice in his head named Marshall (embodied with glee by William Hurt) who wants Brooks to keep murdering innocents for fun. When their last bloody escapade is caught on film by a neighborhood voyeur (Dane Cook), Brooks is faced with the reality of finally being brought to justice for his crimes. Also in the mix is Detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore), a troubled cop looking to take down Brooks, but frustrated with her lack of leads and her own personal demons.
"Mr. Brooks" is a hard film to classify to the average moviegoer. My impulse is to liken the film to the immoral teases of the early 1990s, with productions like "Basic Instinct" finding a way in the marketplace to sell sex, violence, and murder to a mass audience. "Brooks" plays by those very same rules, though the sleaze has been softened to a certain degree. It's a depraved motion picture that trusts the appeal of its cast to navigate it through some potentially off-putting material.
"Brooks" marks the return of Raynold Gideon and Bruce A. Evans to writing/directing duties a full 15 years since their last film, the bizarre cop comedy "Kuffs," failed to catch fire. "Kuffs" is a guilty pleasure of mine and it's a treat to see the team back in the saddle. They have an askew visual sensibility to their films and "Brooks" needs a unique kick in the pants to better bleed into the brain. The team sets the mood early with the creepy blood brotherhood Brooks/Marshall relationship and the poison spreads quickly from there, taking the story to sinister extremes that are not easily predicted and completely welcome.
Some step-printing ugliness and an oddly staged shootout aside, Gideon and Evans recognize that "Brooks" has a difficult tone to maintain, so they slip in and out of horror carefully. The trick of the movie is an age-old one: get the viewer to sympathize with evil. "Brooks" succeeds in selling this card trick, partially due to the layered writing of the character and his moral woes, and the rest is Costner and his sly performance. The audience can't help but be drawn to Brooks, even when his thrill-kill ways are shown in lurid detail. He's a common man with ordinary family problems, yet is consumed with a taste for murder that even he finds revolting, but can't bear to be without.
The filmmakers do an equally exciting job tackling Atwood's story. Clearly the lesser of the two plots, the audience is still permitted to understand the detective's frustrations and obsessions, paying it off in the end with some light twists that connect the dots satisfactorily. It's also the best work Demi Moore has offered the big screen in some time. It seems almost a shame that Costner and Moore don't share screen time they seem perfect for.
As evidenced by the walkouts I witnessed during the screening I attended, "Mr. Brooks" is not the accessible thriller many will fancy. It's a more idiosyncratic piece meant to disturb rather than delight, and it deserves a special level of attention to best extract the delectable wickedness within.
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