The Brothers Bloom

The Brothers Bloom

****

Reviewed by: Adam Micklethwaite

The perfect con, we are told at the start of The Brothers Bloom, is a trick which gives everyone what they want and director Rian Johnson’s second film is a valiant attempt to do just that. Following up the cult success of his 2005 debut Brick, which fused film noir with teen drama to brilliant effect, The Brothers Bloom is an affectionate and witty homage to the conman caper, which harks back to classics such as The Sting and Paper Moon, adding generous doses of comedy and romance to a familiar package.

The eponymous Brothers Bloom are Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody), a pair of orphaned siblings who’ve spent their lives drifting and grifting, blossoming into a formidable double act. Nevertheless, their success has come at a price for younger brother, Bloom, who feels trapped within the roles written for him by his brother, unable to enjoy life for fear that he is always going through the motions, acting out yet another part written by Stephen. Disillusioned with a life which he feels is not truly his own, Bloom temporarily parts company with his brother but is (predictably) enticed back into the fold for one final job.

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This involves a wealthy, eccentric heiress named Penelope (Rachel Weisz), a botched museum heist and the return of the brothers’ shady one-time mentor Diamond Dog (Maximilian Schell). It’s a very charming performance from Weisz as she revels in Penelope’s naivety and sense of adventure. Her montage of unusual hobbies provides one of the film’s funniest moments and the chemistry between Weisz and Brody is generally convincing throughout, adding a welcome touch of romance and comedy to the conman formula.

Johnson is well aware of the pitfalls of the genre, as indicated by the film’s world-weary narrator who introduces the story by reminding us that he has seen it all before. Adopting the mantra that everything has already been done, the film offers nothing undeniably new or original in terms of its plot twists, but rather attempts to use our cynicism as a hook by blurring the lines between fiction and reality such that we cannot be sure of the difference between the two. Johnson’s best trick is to put us in the shoes of the wary, apprehensive Bloom so that we empathise with and adopt his anxieties about his brothers’ motives and the true nature of the con.

For some viewers the build up of devious plot twists may be a little overwrought but it is nevertheless an effective way of skewering the cynical viewer who may see the first twist or even the second, but cannot guess where the twists will end. At 109 mins the film is perhaps a little longer than necessary and some slightly more ruthless editing would probably have done the storyline no harm, but this is a minor quibble and one that can be easily forgiven with such a well-written script and such warm, engaging performances from the leads.

The acting across the board is excellent and surprisingly plausible in a film with such a deliberately offbeat, surreal cast of characters. Part Poirot, part Allo Allo, Robbie Coltrane’s scene-stealing cameo as a Belgian antiques smuggler is a particular favourite. Likewise, Rinko Kikuchi puts in a very funny performance as explosives expert Bang-Bang, the third member of the Brothers’ outfit. Despite having only a couple of lines of dialogue in the whole film she has some of the film’s best physical comedy, regularly upstaging her more famous co-stars.

Featuring songs from the likes of Dylan and The Band, the alt-rock soundtrack is perfectly in tune with the film’s freewheeling, globetrotting spirit, as Johnson skips between styles and genres as effortlessly as the film’s action moves between countries. The cinematography is also impressive, encompassing a wonderful range of settings from New Jersey, through to Prague, Berlin and Russia, adding to the air of surrealism and otherworldliness in which the film playfully resides.

At a crucial moment in the film Bloom is reminded by Penelope that there’s no such thing as an unwritten life – only a badly written one. Johnson’s latest act of cinematic legerdemain may not quite pull off the perfect con, but this intelligent, warm and funny conman caper offers so much more than the badly written life which its hero so fears, cleverly fusing thriller, comedy and romance into an exciting, intelligent and, above all, enjoyable piece of cinema.

Reviewed on: 13 Nov 2008
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Swindling siblings lure an eccentric heiress into their elaborate scheme.
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London 2008

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