The Brothers Bloom
Film Review by Delme Stephenson
Writer-director Rian Johnson has created an enjoyable escapade with his latest film ‘The Brothers Bloom,’ a whimsical heist caper which focuses on the fortunes of two con-artist brothers, their final score and their eccentric female target. However unlike Johnson’s 2005 excellent directorial debut, ‘Brick’, a playful and inventive take on the noir genre, his new film does not hit the same giddy heights. It’s a competently made film, with wonderful performances and a well written script which more than pays it dues. However Johnson’s desire to create significance and originality within the context of the genre ultimately means that the film’s momentum can not be sustained. The abundance of plot twists in the final act all seem to register as one too many encores in a film that has already set in motion all the necessary ingredients for its climatic payoff. That said the film is far from a disappointment and proves that Johnson is a considerable talent.
Although promoted as a visually quirky caper film (which it definitely is) with the spirit of a Wes Anderson film thrown in for good measure, its also works successfully on a more intricate level and is a film concerned as much about the big con as it is about the art of story telling and the creation of imagined realities.
Since childhood Bloom (Adrien Brody) has been an accomplice to his older brother’s elaborate scams with Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) the inspired architect and Bloom the ever reluctant player. Bloom, tired of playing the duplicitous romantic lead in his brother’s yarns quits the enterprise and slumps off to the idyllic environs of Montenegro. It must be noted that every location in this film looks idyllic and every character is dressed in hip, perfectly assembled attire. Several months later Stephen manages to catch-up with Bloom and proposes one last big job, with no strings attached, to which Bloom agrees (an archetype of the Caper film, wink wink!). The brothers are accompanied in their deeds by Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi) a Japanese explosives expert who prefers blowing up inanimate objects rather than speaking. Our trio target a rich, beautiful and socially isolated heiress, Penelope, wonderfully played by Rachel Weisz in complete lovable screwball mode. Penelope has spent most of her life as a recluse in her New Jersey mansion after being misdiagnosed with a series of aliments in her youth. Stephen, always the schemer, sees this as an opportunity for them to take her on a globe trotting romantic escapade in which they will swindle her out of her cash with Bloom being central to the scheme, but at Stephen’s request is forbidden to fall in love with her. However all is not what it seems in this world of the big con game as Bloom becomes increasingly reluctant in finishing the job, Penelope increasingly becomes enamoured with her new adventurous lifestyle, while Stephen increasingly holds back information from the group. In the midst of these issues our quartet has to reconcile their personal issues, outwit the law, each other and perhaps confront a very real and dangerous presence from their past.
‘The Brothers Bloom’ is a visually arresting film, often to the point of distraction - not that this is a bad thing. In this case it’s well done and services the narrative. The film is filled with brilliant visual gags which appear fast and furiously across the screen (blink and you’ll miss it!). For example in one sequence Penelope crashes an expensive car into the wall of the mansion only for an exact model to be seen delivered by a servicing company in the background of a scene a few seconds later. Another sequence has the brothers walk out of darkly lit bar into a zoo with an assortment of exotic animals surreally parading around them. There is an especially brilliantly edited sequence where Penelope demonstrates to Bloom a variety of her talents in quick succession ranging from break dancing moves, card tricks, to playing a variety of musical instruments.
The film is undeniably idiosyncratic and amusing, the stories pathos is fleshed out by an amazing cast of Oscar winners and character actors including Brody, Wesiz, Ruffalo and Maximilian Schell, who all lend the affair a certain amount of gravitas. The cast can’t be faulted and although I dislike indicating any particular cast member, Rachel Wesiz should be commended for providing a great comic turn, while Schell in a small but pivotal appearance as the brother’s ex-mentor figure and current enemy, adds an air of menace to what could have been a very flat role.
‘The Brothers Bloom’ is more than just being a heist caper it’s also a homage to the genre, with Robbie Coltrane playing a character called Melville whom the quartet meet upon a ship which pays reference to Herman Melville’s ‘The Confidence Man: His Masquerade’, which is set upon a steamboat. The films narrator Ricky Jay is a well known stage magician and frequent collaborator with David Mamet in many of his Heist/Confidence films. While Johnson’s inventive title sequences evoke those of ‘The Sting’ and several other modern caper films. Beneath the film’s eccentricities there is a sincerity in the script and in the central performances that allows the film to explore themes of identity, trust and the questions of fiction and reality.
Ultimately ‘The Brothers Bloom’ is a clever light hearted caper, but it’s a shame it doesn’t know when to fold. It reminds me of a line Robert Redford gives Paul Newman near the end of ‘The Sting’, “It's not enough. But it’s close”. The Brothers Bloom is more than enough, it’s too much, but it’s certainly very close.