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Film / Mr. Brooks

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"I don't enjoy killing, Mr. Smith. I do it because I'm addicted to it. "

"The hunger has returned to Mr. Brooks' brain. It never really left."

Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner) is a humbly successful man with a beautiful wife and daughter, a thriving private company and a long record of philanthropy, for which he was recently named the Portland Chamber of Commerce "Man of the Year".

He's also prolific murderer, and no one has ever come close to suspecting him of it.

Brooks does his best to resist his lethal addiction, frequently while being spurred on by "Marshall" (William Hurt), the psychological manifestation of Brooks' dark side whom only he can see. He manages to maintain this life relatively stably for many years until one day, after a relapse that leaves two people dead, Brooks is approached by an obnoxious, abrasive younger man going by "Mr. Smith" (Dane Cook). "Smith" happened to witness Brooks committing the double-murder, photographed it, knows he's "the Thumbprint Killer", and wants to blackmail him.... but not for money. And Detective Tracy Atwood(Demi Moore) has all but staked her career on solving Brooks' string of killings, but with a heap of her own personal problems closing in, she might not have time to keep playing by the rules herself.

Directed by Bruce A. Evans and released in 2007, Mr. Brooks is a coolly cerebral thriller filled with style and highly-detailed substance, focusing on the skeletons we all have in our closets — and what we might do if they ever got out.

This film provide examples of:

  • Asshole Victim: Some - but not all - of the victims of Earl are either unsympathetic characters or outright Jerkasses, notably killing Atwood's slimeball ex-husband and his lawyer who are having an affair. Subverted in that he mostly just kills innocent strangers that attract his interest in some undefined way.
  • The Atoner: Brooks persistently tries to stop killing, but is always pulled back.
  • Batman Gambit: Brooks expected Smith to try and kill him, so he sabotaged the latter's trigger mechanism. Brooks had brought a spare gun in case he decided to let Smith kill him, but decides against it due to his impending grandparenthood, instead killing Smith and framing him.
  • Big Fancy House: Brooks owns one befitting an Portland box baron.
  • Black Comedy: Never fully, but there are inherent touches of it throughout the film, especially in the Brooks-Marshall-Smith relationship.
  • Calling Card: Brooks' victims are typically left in intimate, lifelike poses and a bloody thumbprint from each of them is left on a nearby surface post-mortem, hence him being known to police and the public as the Thumbprint Killer.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Brooks is shown with heaps of redundant materials and clothing for his escapades, and researches his victims and their homes extensively to avoid unexpected changes in their surroundings and routines. Atwood repeatedly notes how many details of the crime scenes are only possible due to the killer's meticulous familiarity with the location, despite being a complete stranger to all the victims.
    Det. Atwood: He vacuumed the house, and took the bag.
    Det. Snyder: What if he killed somebody that didn't have a vacuum cleaner?
    Det. Atwood: He wouldn't do that.
  • Day Dream Surprise: The ending where Brooks is killed by his daughter
  • Deadpan Snarker: Marshall, Brooks' id, is constantly making sardonic comments.
  • Double Consciousness: Mr. Brooks and his evil alter ego, Marshall.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Brooks cares about his wife and daughter, and states his desire to spare them the humiliation of having a disgraced family member as his reasoning for neglecting to surrender to police custody. Ironically, when his daughter herself is a murder suspect, Brooks imitates her modus operandi to throw suspicion off of her.
  • Evil Tastes Good: "The hunger" for murder, which Mr. Brooks finds addictive even though he knows that it's wrong and tries to quit.
  • Family Man: Mr. Brooks' main stake throughout the story is trying to protect the happiness and dignity of his wife and daughter at essentially any cost.
  • Flaw Exploitation: "Smith" has many flaws, but Mr. Brooks particularly uses his arrogance to bring him down.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Wanna know Mr. Baffert's first name? Pause the DVD and look closely at the newspaper blurb about him in the diner scene towards the end.
  • Foreshadowing: Subverted and played straight with the same bit of foreshadowing, as Earl is correct to assume his daughter is a murderer, but the scene where she murders him as well turns out to be All Just a Dream
  • The Glasses Come Off: Played with throughout the film - when he's wearing his eyeglasses, he's Earl Brooks, a nice, friendly, generous businessman. When he's not wearing them, he's the very, very dangerous Thumbprint Killer. This is not a hard and fast rule, but more of a device for Brooks himself to transition between the two states of mind.
  • Gollum Made Me Do It: Marshall constantly goads Mr. Brooks into committing murder again, in spite of his best efforts to stop.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Strangely enough considering that he's a serial killer, Mr. Brooks objects when his pregnant daughter says she may have an abortion, although he backs down she fires back that it's her decision, softening it to how a grandchild would be a great gift to her mother and him. We don't learn what she decided before the film ends.
  • Happily Married: Earl genuinely loves Emma and their marriage appears to be robust, even though she has no idea about his crimes or the imaginary friend who's seemingly just as large a part of his life. Many times throughout the film, she even seems charmed by his strange and distant behaviors, and clearly has a high tolerance for him needing large amounts of alone time 'in' his ceramics studio(ie. having snuck out for hours).
  • Hate Sink: Mr. Smith. While Brooks is presented as mostly sympathetic, and can be admired on some level for how brilliantly he plans everything out, Smith is arrogant, clumsy, and an all-around sleazy scumbag.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Averted. Brooks distinctive handgun sounds quite realistic.
  • Hypocrite: If Earl is really desperately trying to stop killing, why doesn't he take the most obvious way out and just turn himself in? Also, he is shown to enjoy killing people to the point of having an ecstatic rapture when he does it and he is clearly proud that he is so good at throwing the police off his scent. Marshall often calls him out on his BS, though Brooks' does tell him, and Smith, that he doesn't want his own family humiliated by his arrest and trial.
  • If I Wanted You Dead...: Brooks surprises Smith in the night to tell him when and where to meet him to kill someone. Brooks states "If I was here to kill you, you'd already be dead".
  • Imaginary Friend: Marshall, who's basically Mr. Brooks evil side.
  • Jack the Ripoff: Mr. Brooks goes out of his way to commit a very similar murder to the one his daughter commits in order to confuse the authorities and give her an alibi (since she's far away at the time), which makes them believe it was someone else who committed them both.
  • Kubrick Stare: When Brooks puts his Batman Gambit into motion.
  • Last-Name Basis: "Mr. Smith"/Mr. Baffert is only referred to as such during the film. Towards the end, if you pause the DVD and look at the newspaper in the coffee shop scene, you can see his first name is, amusingly, Graves.
  • Mr. Smith: Played straight with Baffert, casually making up the alias "Mr. Smith" on the spot.
  • Mr. Vice Guy: Mr. Earl Brooks, who is not just a nice guy, but a noted philanthropist. If only he weren't addicted to murder...
  • Non-Idle Rich: Tracy Atwood inherited millions, but is still devoted to her career as a hard-working homicide detective. Brooks greatly admires this.
  • Out with a Bang: Brooks often murders couples while they're having sex, or about to as the Thumbprint Killer.
  • Protagonist Title: Mr. Brooks is the protagonist.
  • Psychotic Smirk: Mr. Brooks gives Mr. Smith a smile which comes off as this before killing him.
  • Seen It All: It becomes increasingly obvious in how he behaves around "Smith" that Brooks has seen an awful lot.
  • Reluctant Psycho: Brooks wants to cure his addiction to murder, only stopping short of confessing his crimes out of fear of humiliating his family.
  • Self-Made Man:
    • Earl Brooks founded the highly successful Brooks Boxes, without even going to college.
    • Detective Tracy Atwood, despite being born into a wealthy family, chose to become a police officer to prove herself to her father, and is self reliant from a financial standpoint.
    • "Smith" also has money and a promising career.
  • Serial Killer: Mr. Brooks is the "Thumbprint Killer", a prolific murderer who kills couples during intimate moments. "Smith" catches him and blackmails him into making him an apprentice. Unfortunately for Smith, even before he was the Thumbprint Killer, Brooks had a large and varied bodycount, and Smith ends up being not only one of his victims, but his fall guy.
  • Sequel Hook: Unsurprisingly, since Costner and the makers confirmed in the DVD features that the film was originally conceived as the first of a "Brooks trilogy", there are many of them.
    • It is implied and foreshadowed in the finale that Jane is planning to kill his father and replace him as the head of the family company.
    • Speaking of Jane, she also gives inconsistent versions of what happened to her car. Earl is quick to surmise that a critical piece of evidence linking her to the murder of a classmate must be hidden into the car, but this is not further elaborated upon and the fate of the car is never revealed.
    • Even if Tracy Atwood is the detective in charge of the "Thumbprint Killer" investigation, she and Earl never really cross paths during the movie (on account of her being distracted by a nasty divorce and by another serial killer obsessed with killing her). But at the end the stage is set for a confrontation between the two of them.
      • After having framed “Mr Smith” for his crimes as the "Thumbprint Killer" Earl calls Atwood and shares with her details that only the killer could know. At the end of the call Atwood has understood that whoever called her was not Smith.
      • When Atwood investigates the first murders committed by Earl in the film, she notes that he had been able to walk through the victims’ apartment in complete darkness, even avoiding to trip over and topple objects located in the midst of the most direct route to the master bedroom. The implication is that he was able to access and scout the premises before the murders. Finding how he could have done it is a clear line of investigation that is not pursued further.
  • Shovel Strike: After deciding that he wants to continue living after all, Brooks attacks "Smith" with a shovel, and finishes him off by slashing his throat with it.
  • Slashed Throat: Smith dies from a throat gash resulting from a Shovel Strike.
  • Split Personality: Deconstructed. Earl and Marshall are played by two different actors, so the old trope "two different minds inhabiting the same body" is not at work here. Many of the dialogues between Earl and Marshall are carried out in front of other characters, who do not hear Marshall's words, nor react with amazement at Earl talking to himself. So, it is clear that all of them actually happen in Earl's head. Finally, Earl is clearly conscious that Marshall is merely the projection of his own killer instincts and he never pretends that Marshall actually exists.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Mr. Brooks, a kind, philanthropic loving family man who futilely struggles with his desire to kill.
  • Talking Is a Free Action: A rare live-action example - Mr. Brooks carries on detailed conversations with his imaginary friend Marshall, who often helps him reach new conclusions or remember important details. While these conversations do cost enough 'real' time to make it awkward for a few characters around him, it's clearly only been a few moments, compared to several long minutes in his head.
  • Talking to Themself: Brooks and Marshall, seemingly from Brooks having spent years with nobody else he can share his dark inner life with, even his wife.
  • This Is Your Brain on Evil: Mr. Brooks uses Alcoholics Anonymous mantras to try to resist the urge to murder. It doesn't work.
  • Too Dumb to Live: It becomes painfully clear over the course of the film, that Mr. Smith never stood a chance against Mr. Brooks, and in fact signed his death warrant the moment he went to Brooks with the photos instead of the police.
  • Tragic Villain: Brooks vehemently tries to overcome his addiction to murder, with occasional periods of success.
  • Tropaholics Anonymous: Brooks attends AA meetings using substance abuse as a metaphor for serial killing.
  • Villainous Lineage: Earl's daughter turns out to have the same urge to kill as he does. She's just not nearly as good at it.
  • Villain Protagonist: Brooks, the focal character, struggles with murderous impulses on a regular basis.
  • Villain Respect: Despite Detective Atwood pursuing him as the "Thumbprint Killer", Brooks views her with a sense of admiration due to her taking on a difficult job despite being born into wealth.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Earl Brooks, Portland commerce's man of the year, is a serial killer. However, Brooks's double life is shown to take a toll on his psychological wellbeing, and his positive reputation is (at least for a period of time) exploited by "Smith", who extorts Brooks into letting him tag along on one of the former's excursions.
  • Wedding Ring Removal: Unrelated to extramarital affairs - if you look closely, you can see Earl doesn't wear his wedding ring when out prowling as the Thumbprint Killer, leaving a distinctive tanline.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Atwood's father was very disappointed that she was born a girl, and he let her know it, so she has spent her whole life trying to prove him wrong.