Movie Review: Brothers Bloom
By Brandon Scott
September 30, 2008
Rian Johnson burst onto the filmmaking scene with his original and inventive modern-day noir film Brick in 2005. The Brothers Bloom is his second written and directed feature length effort. Will he avoid the sophomore jinx? One of the quandaries for those in Johnson's position is this; he had success with his first film, which is great, thereby giving him the opportunity to make another feature. On the flip side, because of the originality and success of Brick, the budget is bigger and expectations are lofty, therefore making the overall stakes higher. Combining all of these factors, Brothers is a mixed-bag.
The Brothers Bloom is a breezy, light-hearted adventure pic that follows two brothers who are career con men. Older brother Stephen, played by Mark Ruffalo, sets the cons with elaborate precision, dating back to when he and his younger sibling, Bloom, portrayed by Oscar-winner Adrien Brody, were kids who routinely found themselves kicked out of foster homes. Bloom is always the man who engages the mark and after a life filled playing out roles in Stephen's con games, he wants out, claiming he seeks "an unwritten life." But alas, after a brief split, Stephen tracks down Bloom convincing him to do one last con on Penelope, a lonely heiress, acted with appropriate naiveté by Rachel Weisz.
As in any con film, the guesswork begins for the viewer, trying to uncover who is conning whom and who the real mark is. All the while, Bloom is falling in love with Penelope...or is he? The usual twists and turns are supplied here but while the outcome is indeed in doubt until the end, there isn't enough meat to really sink your teeth into in order to fully engage the viewer. This is a well directed, well acted, and entertaining film. Where the whole thing falters is in the writing, which is routine and non-descript for the most part. Nothing here makes this film stand out amongst other con films of recent years, such as 2003's Confidence or Matchstick Men.
The primary con fails to keep you on the edge of your seat, but the love story is interesting on its own. While it is almost a screwball comedy in many ways, it isn't particularly funny, with the actors bearing the weight of trying to do more with the words than should be necessary to wring humor from the page. Sometimes it is successful and other times not so much. The movie elicits a few smiles or chuckles but no guttural laughs.
Brody stars as the detached lead with his sad eyes doing so much of the work for him. Bloom is depressed throughout and conflicted when faced with the possibility of love. But it is Weisz who really surprises, stealing many of the scenes she is in. While it's difficult to completely buy her character's plight, she just about pulls it off where a lesser actress would struggle mightily to do so. She strikes most of the very subtle chords between inexperience and innocence, humanizing her Penelope.
Johnson clearly has talent, especially shining as a director here. Brothers is well done with Johnson showing a true eye for unique shots and holding a good command of his actors. Adding to the overall package is the fact that he gets to shoot in some beautiful locales here, utilizing them well. As a writer, perhaps the vehicle can be improved in the future so that his films can find a wider audience.
In the end, there is nothing done poorly here, but there is also nothing that jumps out at you and blows you away. Regardless of the talented contributions made from those involved, this will probably not see huge turnouts at the turnstiles, in large part due to the average concept overall. While I was entertained, instinctively Brothers just failed to wow me. As with any movie, I want to give a strong, enthusiastic recommendation. However, for me to do that here I'd be a mark myself as much as I would be conning you. 2.5 out of 4 stars.