(Killtoberfest rolls onward, even though it’s technically Killvember now. Oh well.)
I avoided Mr. Brooks for some years because I assumed it would be cheesy. Kevin Costner as a serial killer? But hey, it’s actually pretty good.
It’s essentially like watching a season of Dexter, only better. I was not a fan of the ending, in which Mr. Brooks goes off to be a lumberjack, but I suppose it comes with the territory. It’s pretty good up until then!
Basically Costner is family man, loving wife, daughter in college, local businessman who wins awards for being just such a nice guy, aw shucks. But he’s in AA, and not for drinking. Every once in a while the pressure gets too much and he goes out and very very carefully kills a couple and then gets rid of all the evidence. In this movie “the pressure” is played by William Hurt, who smirks his way through the movie, hanging around invisibly like Costner’s shoulder devil and trying to get him to murder. This particular murder, Mr. Brooks slips up–somebody saw him. While he deals with that, other subplots arise, Dexter-like, to ruin his week.
What did I like about this? Probably the same things I liked about Dexter, at least at the start. It’s not afraid to make Brooks dark–his performance during the kills is creepy. The Hurt/Costner conceit is broad but it accomplishes what it intends to, which is to dramatize Brooks’ inner struggle with his urges. Although late-stage there are probably a few too many shenanigans involving the hero cop on a mission to get Brooks, for the most part the movie resolves into a dark look at the problems and hopes of a man of his age. He’s accomplished, he’s got the big office and the nice car and the loving family and he should be happy, but he’s not.
What you’re really seeing here is the portrait of a narcissist in distress. It’s called Mr. Brooks because that’s how everybody sees him, right? That’s the identity he’s trying to protect throughout. The “alcoholism” metaphor is what he uses as a psychic defense–he’s not a bad man, he’s just addicted, it’s the disease. That’s the same reason he imagines his “Dark Passenger”, Hurt, to externalize the urges. It’s not me, it’s the man in my head.
But notice he’s never guilty about the people he’s killed, only worried that he might be discovered and shamed. That’s why his suicide plan is there to ensure that his family never finds out about his murdering. In real life he might have killed them to spare them the knowledge (ie., to spare himself the shame of knowing they know). Here he just kills Dane Cook, which I think we can all agree is a better outcome. (As an aside, this is the only film I’ve seen that makes proper use of Cook’s natural smarminess and hateability. Great casting.)
Looking at the ending, the dream sequence, in this new light, I actually feel much better about it. Brooks has solved all of his problems for now, but he still worries that his daughter might try to kill him. It’s a cheap fake-out, but once you get past that it’s also the enduring nightmare of the narcissist–that other people might exist with desires and actions independent of him. But it’s only a dream. Brooks is the only real person in the world. Alone. Just like he likes it.
This was the movie that most exceeded my expectations this October. Not because it’s great, but because it’s really quite good, twisty and entertaining, with one of Costner’s best performances. I’m sorry I stayed away from it for so long.