The Brothers Bloom (2008) / Comedy-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, some sensuality and brief strong language
Running time: 113 min.
Cast: Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel Weisz, Rinko Kikuchi, Robbie Coltrane, Maximilian Schell
Cameo: Nora Zehetner, Ricky Jay (voice)
Director: Rian Johnson
Screenplay: Rian Johnson
Review published May 31, 2009
Lifelong sibling con artists, Bloom (Brody, Hollywoodland) and Stephen (Ruffalo, Blindness), are nearing their last days working as a flamboyant, theatrical-styled team when Bloom announces that he's ready to go legit (he wants an "unwritten life," remarking of how his whole life has been one scenario after another concocted for him to perform in by Stephen), but not before Stephen convinces him to give it one more go before retirement. The con involves swindling an idiosyncratic millionaire heiress named Penelope Stamp (Weisz, Definitely Maybe), with whom Bloom has found himself befriending, through an intentional accident, with only one admonition from Stephen: do not fall for her. Of course, he does, which complicates and already tricky scam.
Rian Johnson, who received great critical acclaim for his modern film noir homage, Brick, crafts another genre homage to the old con capers with The Brothers Bloom, mixing the stories you'd find in such films as The Sting with the light comedy you'd occasionally find in a Marx Brothers comic adventure. You can see his throwback mentality from the costume and set designs, which emphasize and old and new aesthetic, full of derby hats, lavish dresses, and interior artwork from magazine exposes of the rich and famous in the early 20th Century. As with his previous effort, Bloom inhabits its own unique universe with its own eccentric characters, but ultimately overcomes the inherent contrivances of its peculiarities through its crackling script and wonderful characterizations. Like all good con stories, we're never quite sure if we're in on the con or if the con is on us, until the end.
The Brothers Bloom is an odd, somewhat distancing, but still curiously satisfying confection that may not leave the indelible impression in the mind that Brick does, but, thanks to the brilliant performances, literary presentation, and kitschy European art design, offers a nice bit of escapism into its uniquely quirky world, not dissimilar to the way Wes Anderson might do if he were to create a film with more of a conventional plot (Anderson's Bottle Rocket perhaps comes closest to the spirit of Johnson's film from a story standpoint). Part slapstick, part dramatic thriller, The Brothers Bloom might never find a tone that carries itself throughout, but that's also a great part of what makes it so interesting. What it lacks in substance, it makes up for with style. It's a smartly crafted sweet-nothing tip of the hat to the great cons of Hollywood's yesteryear.
©2009 Vince Leo