THE BROTHERS BLOOM (2009)
Starring Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel Weisz, Rinko Kikuchi, Robbie Coltrane, Andy Nyman, Maximilian Schell, Noah Segan, Zachary Gordon, Nora Zehetner and the voice of Ricky Jay.
Screenplay by Rian Johnson.
Directed by Rian Johnson.
Distributed by Summit Entertainment. 109 minutes. Rated PG-13.
With any con man movie, no matter what kind of extravagant settings, crosses & double-crosses and jaded rich victims you have, the end barometer of the whole thing is simply do you buy it? Is the con complex enough – yet realistic enough – that it could have really worked?
The Brothers Bloom certainly paints its tableau on a vivid, eccentric canvas, but it does for the most part pass this basic test. The movie may even just be willfully stylized and overcomplicated and a few things that happen seem to rely on circumstance, but yes, this is an interesting caper. It stretches credibility – but it does not break it wide open.
Writer/director Rian Johnson made a splash with his debut film Brick – a savvy mix of teen angst and hard as nails noir gumshoe fiction. With The Brothers Bloom he also merges two seemingly disparate genres – high-minded Russian literature and breezy confidence games. The mash-up is not quite as successful as it was in Brick, but though flawed, the film is still smart and quirky enough to warrant praise.
The film tells the story of a pair of orphaned brothers – Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody). No first name needed apparently, everyone just calls him Bloom. We meet them as young boys and see their genesis as scam artists. Stephen has a wild imagination and likes creating elaborate schemes.
Bloom is shy and has trouble meeting people, so Stephen uses his plans as a way to drag Bloom out of his shell. Eventually Stephen concocts an elaborate ruse involving a cave, a buried treasure, a mysterious man and a dry cleaner. Bloom is made the face man, to sell the story. He gains the money but loses the girl he has a crush on in the process.
Fast forward twenty-some years – and the brothers have pretty much perfected their elaborate con stylings, and yet they are in many ways at the very same place they were as kids. Stephen is the cynic. Bloom is the romantic. Stephen is painting the tableaus and Bloom is the face man to make them work. Their cons have grown even more elaborate – Bloom says that his brother likes to plan a sting like a Russian novel – but eventually they usually get the money and Bloom usually loses the girl.
Bloom is tired of not having a normal life and wants to get out of the con games. Stephen talks him into one final score. Their victim will be Penelope (Rachel Weisz), a beautiful but odd heiress. Penelope grew up on her family estate with little human interaction, so now that her parents have died, she is bored and directionless.
Penelope passes her time “collecting hobbies” as she puts it – finding things that people do to pass the time and obsessively learning how to do them as well. She also has a tendency to crash and replace Lamborghinis with disturbing regularity. Therefore she is wide open to a supposedly “chance” meeting with Bloom, quickly falling for the morose guy. Eventually she finds out that they are con men and that just fuels her interest – she sees the brothers as a way to finally live an adventurous life.
Is it a problem that the mark is so much more interesting a character than the con men that are trying to fleece her?
A little, I suppose, but it is just that unpredictability that allows the film to keep an air of uncertainty alive. Could this charmingly odd woman really lure the Bloom from the con, or is his interest in her just another level from the crime as scripted?
This leads to a whole series of adventures crossing the globe – complete with beautiful scenery, suspicious characters, angry mobsters and several large explosions.
Sometimes the storytelling gets a little lazy – for example at one point Penelope finds herself in potential serious trouble with foreign police and she is able to talk her way out of it, but we never see how. It seems to be a significant enough plot point that it should be explained – if for no other reason than to get a handle on the character and her skills.
Con films are always trying to con the audience as well as the mark, and this one jumps back and forth with ruthless efficiency. Every time you think you understand what happened, another twist will appear – to the point, honestly that they go a little too far. A few times The Brothers Bloom reaches a perfectly valid ending and just keeps going – knocking down the latest house of cards just because they can.
However, strangely, the con may be one of the less interesting aspects of The Brothers Bloom. It is really just a twisty-turny road map to get to the important parts – the quirky relationship between two loving but somewhat estranged brothers and how their lives are changed by meeting a truly unique soul.
Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 7, 2009.