Movie Review: Brothers Bloom
By Matthew Huntley
June 2, 2009
After the deceptively brilliant Brick (2006), writer-director Rian Johnson is proving he's the real deal with The Brothers Bloom, an original and offbeat comedy that never ceases to surprise us. Johnson is a born storyteller who seems to make movies for the simple joy of making them, but he's aware the mechanics of filmmaking should be used to service a story rather than simply show off what can be done with a camera, which is why The Brothers Bloom becomes more than just a technical exercise. And for a movie with its fair share of drama and tragedy, it's also consistently bright and joyful. Not many filmmakers can pull that off that type of balance. Johnson can.
Similar to how he mixed seemingly incongruous parts in Brick, a straight-up, classic film noir set in a modern day high school, Johnson combines different temporal elements in The Brothers Bloom. Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody) are two conmen brothers who look like they've been yanked right out of the 1920s, with their black fedoras and suits. As orphans, the Blooms began mastering the art of con artistry at an early age (and were kicked out of several homes doing it). An amusing opening shows Stephen as the leader and Bloom as the romantic.
As an adult, Bloom wants out of the con business. The lifestyle has left him emotionally cold and apathetic. Stephen asks him to pull off one last job in New Jersey by conning millions out of a wealthy antique heiress named Penelope (Rachel Weisz). The plan initially backfires and Bloom winds up tending to Penelope in the hospital. When he takes her home, he finds out what a life of being sheltered and not having any friends has done to her. The woman can skateboard, DJ, juggle and build cameras out of fruit, among other things.
When Bloom tells her he and his brother are shipping out to Greece, Penelope decides to join them, which sets in motion the brothers next attempt to con her. They're joined by their Japanese sidekick, Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), who only eats the skin of an apple and throws the rest away, and a man who calls himself The Curator (Robbie Coltrane). The brothers convince Penelope they're art smugglers but need money to pull off the next job. The interesting twist is that Penelope wants in. She's unaware it's one big setup against her, but even if she was, she wouldn't care. All she wants is the adventure and danger that go along with it.
There have been many con artist movies and The Brothers Bloom might have wound up like the rest of them, but what sets it apart are the unique characters. Sure, the beautiful locations (Greece, Prague, St. Petersburg), bizarre shots (watch out for the camel!) and ironic humor work in its favor, but they wouldn't have made the movie this good by themselves. I responded more to the quirky relationships between Bloom and his brother and Bloom and Penelope. The actors, especially Brody, seem to be in perfect sync with the director's intentions — for the movie to be wry but also good-hearted. In a way, Brody re-purposes his character from Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited, as a cynical and stoic man. That works here because Penelope is his counterpoint. She's like a bright and curious child, who rejuvenates him. Ruffalo and Weisz, who have played serious characters in the past (see Ruffalo in Zodiac and Weisz in The Constant Gardener), provide this movie its jolliness.
The film's action and comedy work well because Johnson ultimately understates them. In one scene, Bang Bang inadvertently smells Bloom's fingers, and their reactions are all the scene needs to pay off (you'll know what I mean). There's also a superb chase sequence where the camera is placed underneath the break and gas pedal of a car. It may be a bit showboaty, but it's also a really neat shot that helps set it stand out from countless other car chases. I also liked the ending because Johnson trusts his audience to get things without having to explain them. He sees no need to show a flashback and remind of us previously spoken dialogue. Not many filmmakers are so willing to trust their audience.
It's been a while since a film has entertained me so thoroughly. The Brothers Bloom is bright, funny and simply delightful. It's perhaps not as clever as Brick, but I think it means something that Johnson waited this long to give us his next picture. Whether that had anything to do with financing or how long it takes him to write a screenplay, I don't know, but I have a feeling the talented young filmmaker won't make just anything. He wants to take the time to make tell good, character-driven stories, and he wants to tell them innovatively. The Brothers Bloom is his latest.