"Finding someone you think would be fun to kill is a bit like, well it's a bit like falling in love."
It is said that we are known by our enemies, every hero needs a formidable foe to measure themselves against, to test their metal so to speak. Batman has the Joker, Superman has Lex Luthor, but what if the hero is also the villain, but not only a villain, but a serial killer? This is not a new concept, it has been done many times before from Hannibal Lector in 'Silence of the Lambs', to Patrick Bateman in 'American Psycho'. The key to success in depicting a good serial killer has always been the casting and for every success there are easily just as many. While Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar for his turn as Hannibal Lector, Sharon Stone for example deservedly won a Razzie for playing the villain in 'Basic instinct 2'.
So it's quite surprising to find three time Razzie winner Kevin Costner giving his best performance in years as titular serial killer, Mr. Brooks. While Costner has certainly had his fair share of turkeys over the years, it's easy to forget that he was once one of the most respected actors and directors in the world. Since being burned by the critical disasters of bloated mega-budget catastrophes ‘Waterworld’ and ‘The Postman’, Costner has slowly been building up his reputation again in more modest films like 'Open Range' and the excellent (but sadly overlooked) 'Thirteen Days'. While he has still been in his fair share of duds (Rumour Has It, Dragonfly) it's good to see Costner slowly getting back on form.
Costner plays Earl Brooks, a highly intelligent & successful businessman who adores his beautiful wife and daughter, but who also happens to moonlight as a serial killer. Accepting his nefarious compulsions as an addiction, it's fascinating to see Earl earnestly trying to control it by attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, reciting Twelve-Step Serenity Prayer whenever he feels the urge. Continually taunted by Marshall (William Hurt), the manifestation of his id, Earl tragically cracks after two years 'on the wagon' committing a meticulously planned double murder. A simple amateur mistake however, results in peeping tom and wannabe killer "Mr Smith" (Dane Cook) photographing him in the act. Blackmailed by Mr. Smith, hunted by tenacious Detective Atwood (Demi Moore) and dealing with the fact that his daughter may have inherited his 'hobbie', Earl's carefully managed existence begins to unravel.
It's not easy to make viewers sympathetic for a serial killer, but the interplay between Earl and Marshall is equally darkly comic and strangely enticing. The love/hate relationship that underlines their co-dependence is so eminently watchable, it's almost a shame that they have to share the screen with other characters. While subplots about Detective Atwood and Earls daughter do up the ante for Earl, they are never as engaging as the central arc. Detective Atwood’s personal life in particularly is largely extraneous to the plot and could easily have been trimmed back making the film more effective.
Mr. Brooks was originally intended to be the first film in a trilogy. It's a real shame that Mr. Brooks was generally overlooked at the box office, so whether the trilogy pans out remains to be seen. Regardless of it's future, Mr. Brooks remains a dark and intelligent thriller, offering Kevin Costner his best role in years. While the sinister nature of the film (and the fact that you're asked to root for a serial killer) may well put some viewers off, 'Mr. Brooks' certainly deserves to be seen by a wider audience.