Kevin Costner as a serial killer? Really?
Yes, really. 'Mr. Brooks' is a film that I fully expected to be a laughable exercise in camp, with Costner running around doing his best Hannibal Lecter impression and falling flat on his face. Instead, I found him not only believable and suitably chilling in the title role, but the film itself a compelling (if still somewhat flawed) take on a long-tired genre. As a longtime fan and student of horror, I rarely find myself surprised by films in the genre these days, so the fact that 'Mr. Brooks' actually got my pulse quickening is high praise indeed.
Though not directly inspired by real-life events, it's not to hard to see similarities to such well-known psychos as the BTK or Zodiac killers in 'Mr. Brooks. Part thriller, part police procedural and part psychological study, the screenplay by Bruce Evans and Raymond Gideon (Evans also directs) paints a heightened but still relatively realistic portrait of madness masked by everyday banality.
As played by Costner, at first glance the Mr. Brooks of the title would seem to be the prototypical all-American male. He's the founder of a booming shipping business, a loving husband to his beautiful wife Emma (Marg Helgenberger), and has just seen his pretty daughter Jane (Danielle Panabaker) off to a prestigious college. He does, however, have one gruesomely atypical hobby. After developing a taste for murder in his youth, he's successfully eluded the police while systematically torturing and killing dozens, if not hundreds, of innocent victims as the "Fingerprint Killer.". Even more schizophrenic, he's developed an entirely separate personality, "Marshall" (William Hurt), who is his accomplice in his crimes.
This carefully constructed fantasy world is about to come crashing down around him, however, when his latest murder results in series of complications. Unbeknownst to Mr. Brooks, the crime was photographed by a man who calls himself only Mr. Smith (Dane Cook). Rather than using the photos to bring Brooks to justice (or to blackmail Brooks for cash), Mr. Smith is actually a closet thrill-seeker who wants to learn the tricks of the serial killer trade, and thinks he's found the father figure he'd always longed for in Brooks. Meanwhile, tough-as-nails Detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore) is finally closing in on the "Fingerprint Killer," and links Mr. Smith to the crimes.
'Mr. Brooks' impressed me for two main reasons. The first is that the screenwriters have come up with a fascinating explanation for the evil of their title character. Mr. Brooks is not just some indecipherable, knife waving psychopath running around dark hallways, but rather an addict like any other you might find at an AA meeting (in fact, in one darkly comedic scene, Mr. Brooks and "Marshall" are seen attending a 12 steps meeting to help cure his bloodlust). Though this conceit might seem precious, in fact it feels strangely plausible. Everyone holds secrets -- even from those they are closest to -- and this basic human truth is what gives the film's domestic scenes a surprising authenticity. What's so terrifying about mass murderers like Ted Bundy and the BTK Killer is not only that they could be the man next door, but perhaps even our own husbands or fathers.
The second reason 'Mr. Brooks' is riveting is Costner. Though he's made some bad choices in his career and is not known as the nicest guy in Hollywood, when he finds the right role, he can be surprisingly effective. In 'Mr. Brooks,' he nails the duality of his character to a T, crafting a multi-faceted performance that simultaneously conveys a charming vulnerability, a relentless compulsiveness to kill, and a slow-simmering rage. It's quite a high-wire act, and 'Mr. Brooks' would have almost certainly failed if Costner had resorted to typical genre histrionics or scenery-chewing.
Alas, what prevents 'Mr. Brooks' from truly achieving greatness is that it has no real ending. Evans and Gideon apparently conceived of 'Mr. Brooks' as the first film in a trilogy, but they got ahead of themselves -- you only earn the right to make a sequel when your first film fully satisfies. As is, the film's third act is a mess of unbelievable narrative contrivances, dangling subplots and abandoned characters (particularly Moore's, who is painted with complexity earlier in the film, only to bejust about completely dropped). Because 'Mr. Brooks' works so well for its first two-thirds as a detective story, a thriller and a character study, it's that much more disappointing that the filmmakers couldn't figure out to wrap it up.
In the end, 'Mr. Brooks' feels like just what it is -- a great set-up in search of a fully fleshed-out narrative arc. Still, the good parts are good enough that, despite its abrupt conclusion, 'Mr. Brooks' is worth getting to know.
Not unlike its title character, the video quality of 'Mr. Brooks' has a somewhat schizophrenic nature to it.
Fox offers a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode in the film's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and there are numerous positives. The source is pristine, with a smooth, sharp texture free of any imperfections. Colors have clearly been tweaked during post (particularly the noticeable blue-green tint shift), and although I wouldn't call 'Mr. Brooks' "naturalistic," at least its palette has not been overdone to the point of distraction. The image is also as sharp as a tack, and the general sense of depth to the image is impressive -- the transfer truly looks thee-dimensional, and almost always feels "high-def."
Unfortunately, black levels and particularly contrast left me disappointed. Blacks never quite look pure, which gives a slightly washed out look to the proceedings. Contrast is even weirder -- not only is high-end a little bit hot (which intrudes on detail), but the mid-range seems too bright as well, which dulls colors and really dilutes the "pop" factor.
Make no mistake, overall this presentation still looks quite good. The pity is had this disc's problems been fixed, it could have been a first-rate transfer.
On par with the video, the DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track (48khHz/24-bit) that Fox has provided for 'Mr. Brooks' is good but not spectacular. The film's sound design is interesting (especially in its unusual use of music for a genre film), but it's not that aggressive.
Though 'Mr. Brooks' is arguably more of a character study than it is a horror film, I still would have liked a stronger surround presence. Discrete effects are rarely utilized, sustained atmosphere is weakly employed, and the film's nicely ambient score could have really benefited from a more pronounced bleed to the rears.
On the plus side, 'Mr. Brooks' sounds as impeccably recorded as you would expect for a major studio film. Every element of the mix is rendered with excellent clarity, with excellent depth to the entire frequency range and nice, deep low bass. Dialogue is the real star here, and it's pitch perfect. There are also no volume balance issues at all. So, even if I was never fully enthralled by this mix, it's never less than listenable.
'Mr. Brooks' hits Blu-ray with all of the features from the concurrently-released standard-def DVD, presented here in full 1080p/MPEG-2 video. Unfortunately, though it's a decent assortment of extras, I personally found the depth of content a wee bit shallow.
First up is an audio commentary with director Bruce A. Evans and co-writer Raynold Gideon. I was looking forward to this track because I thought their approach to the material was unique, and far more humanistic than most serial killer flicks. Unfortunately, the pair is actually kind of smug, seemingly thinking quite highly of a film that's good but still no masterpiece. The pace of the discussion is also somewhat slow, with the two participants often lapsing into silence or back-patting. On the bright side, there are a few genuine moments of insight, including some early discussion on the story construction, and the considerable challenges in depicting the title character's shifting state of mind in a cinematic (rather than expository) fashion.
I may have not been thrilled with the commentary, but the trio of featurettes are far worse. "The Birth of a Serial Killer: The Writing of Mr. Brooks" (7 minutes) gives Evans, Gideon and Kevin Costner a chance to boast about how insightful the movie is; "Murder on Their Minds: Mr. Brooks, Marshall and Mr. Smith" (9 min.) features Costner, William Hurt and Dane Cook waxing philosophical about the deep nature of their characters; and "On the Set of Mr. Brooks" (10 min.) is the worst of the bunch, a "making of" that's even more self-aggrandizing. All of this fluff really should have been boiled down to a single EPK, because it's just one big extended commercial.
The last major extra is a collection of six Deleted Scenes. Running a scant 7 minutes, there's not much here to chew on, though there is a particularly a lame sequence with Demi Moore and a male prostitute(!) that seems like it came from an entirely different movie. A wise cut...
Rounding out the set is the film's original Theatrical Trailer, plus additional previews for future Fox Blu-ray titles 'Live Free or Die Hard,' 'Rescue Dawn' and 'Home of the Brave.' Three of the four trailers are presented in 1080p/MPEG-2 video and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, and look and sound great. (For whatever reason. 'Rescue Dawn' gets only a 480p/MPEG-2 tranfer and Dolby 2.0 Stereo sound, and it suffers by comparison.)
'Mr. Brooks' is a true sleeper of a genre film that offers a fresh twist on the standard serial killer flick. Although I found its final act disappointing, at least it's involving for most of its 120-minute runtime. This Blu-ray disc is something of a mixed bag. Both the video and audio are good but not great, and the supplemental package is decidedly average. I wish I could have given this more of one an unqualified rave, but there's still enough here that 'Mr. Brooks' is worth checking out.