Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner) is a popular, humble, successful man with a beautiful wife and daughter, a thriving private company and a highly respected record of philanthropy, for which he was recently named the Portland Chamber Of Commerce' "Man of the Year".
He's also one of the most prolific serial killers in American history and no one has ever come close to suspecting him of it.
Brooks is still quite a good man in many ways, and does his best to resist his lethal urges, 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. However, not for money. "Smith" got a huge rush out of seeing Brooks' actions.... and wants to be taken along for the ride next time.
An extremely determined detective (Demi Moore) who has been attempting to solve Brooks' murders for years seems to be getting closer, while going through a messy divorce and tracking another serial killer she previously caught, "the Hangman", who has now escaped. Brooks' family life is also getting more complicated as his daughter has just dropped out of college and moved back home, bringing an unexpected set of new problems with her.
Mr. Brooks is a 2007 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: Most of the victims of Earl are either unsympathetic characters or outright jerkasses. Especially, Mr. "Smith", who is not only a voyeur, but does not also report Earl to the police after having discovered that he is the Thumbprint Killer because he wants to blackmail Earl into help him to set up a random murder, just for the thrill.
- The Atoner: Brooks persistently tries to stop killing, but is always pulled back.
- Batman Gambit: A particularly interesting one towards the end, involving "Smith".
- Big Fancy House: Brooks owns one befitting a box maker 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: This is how he never gets caught. He stalks his victims, researches them, walks through their house. Finds out their plans, and after he kills them, he leaves no evidence behind: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.
- Criminal Mind Games
- Day Dream Surprise: The ending where Brooks is killed by his daughter
- Deadpan Snarker: Marshall, Brooks' id.
- Double Consciousness: Mr. Brooks and his evil alter ego, Marshall.
- Evil Tastes Good: "The hunger" for murder, which Mr. Brooks finds addictive even though he knows that it's wrong and tries to quit.
- 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: 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Brooks does tell Smith that he doesn't want his 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.
- In the Blood: Earl's daughter turns out to have the same urge to kill as he does. She's just not nearly as good at it.
- 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.
- 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, alias "Mr. Smith".
- 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.
- 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.
- Self-Made Man:
- Earl Brooks founded the highly successful Brooks Boxes, without even going to college.
- "Smith" also has money and a promising career.
- Serial Killer: Mr. Brooks. "Smith" catches him and blackmails him into making him an apprentice.
- Sequel Hook: The film has them. Also, Costner and the makers talk in the DVD features about the possibility of a "Brooks trilogy".
- 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: Resulting from the Shovel Strike.
- Split Personality: Deconstrued. 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 futily struggles with his desire to kill.
- Talking to Themself: A particularly notable example. Mr. Brooks carries on long conversations with Marshall, who represents his urges to kill.
- 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.
- "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.