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"The hunger has returned to Mr. Brooks' brain. It never really left."
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.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, as 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 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:
- The Ace - Brooks pretty much has it all - a successful business, a loving family, all the money he could ever want. As the Thumbprint Killer, he not only has an exceedingly high kill count, he's able to cover his tracks and evade the police successfully.
- Affably Evil - Brooks is a loving family man who also happens to be a serial killer.
- Asshole Victim - Several, but likely not all, of Mr. Brooks' victims. Mr. Smith is the prime example.
- The Atoner - Brooks persistently tries.
- Batman Gambit - A particularly interesting one towards the end, involving "Smith".
- Big Fancy House
- Black Comedy - Never fully, but there are inherent touches of it throughout the film, especially in the Brooks-Marshall-Smith relationship.
- Blood Knight - Brooks clearly enjoys killing, no matter how much he tries to quit.
- 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' hidden cache of passports and driver's licenses with false identities and appearances.
- Criminal Mind Games
- Deadpan Snarker - Marshall, Brooks' id.
- Double Consciousness - Brooks and Marshall.
- Evil Tastes Good - "The hunger"
- Flaw Exploitation - And "Smith" has so many flaws indeed. His biggest ones are his arrogance and stupidity, both of which Brooks exploits beautifully.
- 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
- 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.
- Gollum Made Me Do It
- Hero Antagonist - Detective Tracy Atwood, the detective pursuing Brooks.
- Hey, It's That Guy! - Catherine Willows is married to the Thumbprint Killer and doesn't suspect a thing?! That's not gonna go over well with Grissom and the gang.
- Hollywood Silencer - Averted. Brooks' distinctive handgun sounds quite realistic.
- If I Wanted You Dead...
- Imaginary Friend - Marshall.
- 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.
- Last-Name Basis - "Mr. Smith"/Mr. Baffert is only referred to as such during the film. Towards the its 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.
- Living Lie Detector - Brooks, often manifesting through Marshall.
- Mr. Smith - Played straight with Baffert, alias "Mr. Smith"
- Mr. Vice Guy - Mr. Earl Brooks
- Non-Idle Rich - Tracy Atwood inherited millions, but is still devoted to her career as a hard-working homicide detective. Brooks greatly admires this.
- All of the main characters essentially qualify.
- Out with a Bang - Brooks often murders couples while they're having sex, or about to.
- The Perfect Crime
- Playing Against Type - Dane Cook, stand-up comedian and comic actor, as the bitter douchebag "Smith", although he made sure to incorporate some of his signature brand of obnoxiousness.
- Psychotic Smirk
- 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.
- Sequel Hook - The film has them. Also, Costner and the makers talk in the DVD features about the possibility of a "Brooks trilogy".
- Serial Killer - Brooks, obviously.
- Serial Killer Killer - Subverted in a number of ways
- Split Personality - Deconstructed. Marshall is simply a representation of Brooks' urges, and Brooks is perfectly aware of this.
- Sympathetic Murderer - Earl Brooks, heartbreakingly so.
- Talking to Themself - A particularly notable example.
- This Is Your Brain on Evil - Basically the concept of the film.
- Too Dumb to Live - "Smith" blackmails Brooks into teaching him how to be a killer, and he ultimately ends up being killed by Brooks.
- Tragic Villain - Brooks vehemently tries to overcome his addiction to murder, with occasional periods of success.
- Tropaholics Anonymous
- Unspoken Plan Guarantee
- Villain Protagonist - Brooks, with traces of Anti-Villain.
- Villains Out Shopping