I think of three movies when I hear the name Kevin Costner: Dances with Wolves, Open Range and Tin Cup. Movie quality aside, Costner himself always seemed a bit on the cardboard side, but after watching Mr. Brooks on Blu-ray Disc, my eyes have been opened to Costner’s actual ability when given a truly complex character.
Similar to The Talented Mr. Ripley, Mr. Brooks tells the story of a psychotic man with a homicidal past to whom, rather disturbingly, viewers grow attached during the course of the film. Sure, Costner plays a serial killer, and yes, we get to see him whack a few folks in gruesome detail. But everyone has a back story, everyone has a reason for acting a certain way, and everyone needs a bit of love from time to time, right? Yes, on all counts, but it’s Costner’s ability to swim in the gray area between psychotic killer, successful businessman, philanthropist and loving husband/father that makes him turn in possibly the best acting performance of his career.
Costner’s interactions with his imaginary alter ego, Marshall (played masterfully by William Hurt), and his real-life cohorts are seamless, and the combination of cinematography and script really make viewers feel like Costner is having conversations with his inner demon. His fascination with the detective pursuing him (played by an incredibly uninspired Demi Moore) also adds intrigue, particularly considering the characters” parallel blackmail stories. But it’s the plotting, character development and script that really drive Costner’s performance, and the combination is easily the best psychopath-sympathy movie since the aforementioned Mr. Ripley.
Yet as strong as the movie itself is, the Blu-ray Disc presentation is surprisingly average. The movie is visually presented in 1080p encoded with AVC MPEG-4 at 35 mbps, which would normally mean all-around great picture quality. However, the picture is inconsistent from scene to scene, with some light and dark scenes showing standard DVD-quality grain while others are incredibly sharp and have great contrast. When the picture quality is good, it’s really good, but when it takes a dip and shows some grain, it feels like the film presentation in a non-digital theater: good, but definitely room for improved clarity.
The audio quality is a completely different story, in large part because Fox includes the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio. Mr. Brooks” audio track is so refined that it’s easy to pick up subtle tonal differences based on outdoor, indoor and in-car scenes, and the score (which in itself is hauntingly good) sounds as if the orchestra were sitting behind your entertainment center. Although Mr. Brooks is a thriller, the movie seldom delves into a slash- or gore-fest, so the surround sound isn’t often used as much as it could be. However, in those few instances where action scenes take over, it’s easy to feel as if you are on the set.
Whoever was in charge of producing the Mr. Brooks on Blu-ray clearly knew the movie’s strong suit, because nearly half of the bonus features focus on the characters, plot and story. The most compelling feature, The Birth of a Serial Killer: The Writing of Mr. Brooks (7:26) provides a great explanation of the big-picture concepts and metaphors explored in the movie, with the writers themselves providing the entirety of the interviews. Their insight is interspersed with clips from the movie itself, and although this feature (like all but the Deleted Scenes) is presented in 1080p, it appears as though the interviews weren’t filmed with a 1080p-capable camera — leading to a noticeable discrepancy in video quality.
Murder on Their Minds: Mr. Brooks, Marshall and Mr. Smith (9:15) expands on the plot and character development by delving into the motivations of each character and hearing from the actors about what they tried to bring to each character’s unique story. This is a very appropriate feature for this Blu-ray Disc, considering the quality of the characters and plotting, and the extra attention paid to these key roles in most welcome. The Deleted Scenes (6:23), however, aren’t quite as welcome or, for that matter, really much of a “bonus,” because they’re brief (about one minute each), presented in 480p and clearly were cut for a reason.
The bonus features are rounded out by the requisite On the Set (9:35) behind-the-scenes fluff fest about the cast/crew experience and a surprisingly solid Feature-Length Commentary track. Whereas most commentary tracks provide half-asleep “insight” into the specifics of setting up a scene or shot, this excellent commentary takes a more philosophical or “big picture” tone, focusing much less on individual scenes and more on the back story of the production itself, using each scene as a microcosm for the movie as a whole.
With a stellar story, top-notch performances by Kevin Costner and William Hurt and an emotional rush that lasts well through the twist at the end, Mr. Brooks is a fantastic film from beginning to end. Its video quality doesn’t hold up quite as well as its audio or story, but if you’ve yet to see this movie and enjoy thrillers with great plots, Mr. Brooks is at least worth renting.
– Jonas Allen