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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Mr. Brooks (review)

Serial killers are people too, with hopes and dreams and loving spouses and kids who drive them crazy. That’s the repulsive theme of this revolting film, which flirts briefly with satire and dark comedy before landing squarely in the realm of made-for-TV melodrama about the challenges and the rewards of balancing career, marriage, parenthood, and a serious avocation for vicious, coldblooded murder. Ugh — I need to be hosed down. Kevin Costner (The Guardian) is desperately not up to the task of Mr. Brooks, the Portland (Oregon) Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year. He makes boxes, and he’s very successful at it, which is, I think, meant to be a metaphor for how “straight” life — ie, life in which he denies his serial-killer side thanks to AA — constrains him. Watch him revel orgasmically in death, though, when his demented alter ego (William Hurt [The Good Shepherd], who probably believed this was going to be a satire) eggs him on to taking up their hobby again. And I haven’t even touched on the ludicrousness of Demi Moore’s (Bobby) millionaire cop, or Dane Cook’s (Mystery Men) nauseating serial-killer groupie. The sadistic, killer-as-hero crap that has infested horror movies aimed at teenagers has, pardon the pun, bleed over into movies intended for adults, a development to be greatly lamented.

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MPAA: rated R for strong bloody violence, some graphic sexual content, nudity and language

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
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  • Patrick

    I partially blame Oliver Stone for this with the reprehensible “Natural Born Killers”. That bit of sanctimonious trash set an ugly precedent 13 years ago.

    “Mr. Brooks” sounds like a forlorn satire a’la “American Psycho”. But “AP” had a moral outlook of an immoral character.

    Even a great film like “Silence of the Lambs” has to share a little bit of responsibility for glorifying serial killers. But, in fairness we had Clarice Starling to balance out Hannibal Lecter.

    It’s a tricky subject to tackle and Hollywood is barely up to the task for the most part.

  • Kathy A

    You should be watching and reviewing some good movies, MaryAnn! On Saturday, I had a good day, and saw both Once and Paris, Je T’aime, and I definitely recommend them both to you. I’d love to read your reviews of them, and I bet they’d make you feel better than your more recent reviews have.

  • MaryAnn

    I’ve seen *Paris Je T’Aime* (it’s listed in the “recent screenings” section in the righthand column) and I’m planning to see *Once,* too.

    The thing is, I don’t know — not for sure — what’s gonna be good and what’s gonna be bad before I see it. I was open to the possibility that this one could have at least been entertaining. It wasn’t, but I gave it a shot.

  • Obviously, I’m as concerned about MaryAnn’s mental wellbeing as the next reader – and it does sound like “Mr. Brooks” is the sort of thing that could tip any of us over the edge into a heartwarming and good-natured killing spree – but the slatings are often the most fun to read. As dismal an experience as they are at the time, the bad reviews give pleasure to thousands of us looking for something to avoid, or to make the centrepiece of their next bad-movie night. I believe sports fans call it “taking one for the team”.

  • Patrick:

    “I partially blame Oliver Stone for this with the reprehensible ‘Natural Born Killers’. That bit of sanctimonious trash set an ugly precedent 13 years ago.”

    Quoi? I don’t get where you’re coming from, here. Natural Born Killers was an obvious satire on our tendency to glorify murderers, which was made accidentally resonant by coming out during the O.J. trial. It sounds like this movie genuinely celebrates what NBK condemned.

    The rest of what you said makes sense. I have friends who are always telling me I’m taking ultra-violent, mindless slasher flicks too seriously, and that they just go to them because they like to watch people get killed in entertaining ways. I have yet to figure out why that is enjoyable.

  • Patrick

    Jurgan,

    “NBK” hides behind irony and satire to be a treatise on how serial killers are “better” than the big, bad media. What kind of fucked up message is that? Mickey and Mallory are the “portal” characters to the stories and they determine the moral tone of the movie.

    Oliver Stone spends the two hours showing disgusting acts of violence in a glorified manner, and then chastises the media (read: TV, not movies, natch)
    for doing what his doing in his movie. In short, Ollie wants his cake and to eat it too.

    And that’s what I think a film like “Mr. Brooks” is trying to do.

  • Noor

    I would totally disagree with MaryAnn’s analysis of this film. I got to the end of it and, stunned, announced to the friends I’d watched it with, “WOW!!!! Brilliant film!!! BRILLIANT FILM!!!!” Just MHO, of course.

    I found this to be the most complex and interesting psychologicaly thriller since “The Crying Game” – I think the way Costner (not an actor that I particularly care for at all!!!) portrays Mr. Brooks is PERFECT. The back and forth between him and his alter ego, “Marshall” is very thought provoking, and raises awareness of things going on that I would have otherwise missed completely. Earl Brooks is a serial killer, yes – a man tormented by this aspect of himself that he CANNOT ESCAPE and can only control (for short periods of time) with the greatest difficulty. He is caught in the ultimate conundrum.

    There were a few flaws – like when the police show up at the door to question Jane, the daughter, about the murder at her school – one of them is from Palo Alto, CA: intimating that Jane was attending Stanford University. But in the earlier part of the film, she has told her father that a friend is ‘driving her car cross country’ – so one assumes that she was at school somewhere on the EAST coast, since the film is set in Portland, OR. These kinds of oversights are, I feel, quite easy to overlook in service to the rest of the film’s brilliance – the psychological exploration of a man compelled to murder.

  • logos

    I’m surprised at your negative take on this film. Open-minded people such as you often insist that criminals cannot be held fully responsible because they are suffering from some sort of affliction, whether it be alcoholism, drug addiction, or battered-wife syndrome. Here we have a film that boldly extends that logic to a man suffering from a serious affliction indeed, namely a split personality whose evil half will not leave the good half in peace. Portraying a murderer as someone in need of therapy rather than jail time is a time-honored principle of the progressive set, so Mr. Brooks’ promise to attend AA meetings should inspire us all. Shouldn’t it?

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