Brothers Bloom, The (United States, 2008)

May 15, 2009
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Brothers Bloom, The Poster

The Brothers Bloom is a victim of timing. Originally slated to be released late in 2008, it was pulled by Summit Entertainment because the distributor wanted to find a more comfortable slot than the crowded end-of-the-year meat market. Instead of opening The Brothers Bloom during one of the weakest winter/spring seasons in recent memory, Summit has elected to release it opposite Angels & Demons, with Star Trek still fresh in theaters and with Terminator: Salvation just around the corner. Talk about setting a movie up to fail! Nevertheless, scheduling blunders aside, this is worth seeking out because, despite its low profile, it offers the rarity of "summer fun" without the seemingly obligatory "dumb" appended to that descriptor.

A caper movie starring Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel Weisz, The Brothers Bloom is the second feature from writer/director Rian Johnson, whose debut Brick won him acclaim and admirers. This is evidence that not all filmmakers fall victim to the so-called "sophomore slump." It's a charming and delightful motion picture with everything one might reasonably expect from such a film: great chemistry between the actors, elements of genuine pathos, an unanticipated twist and turn or two, and a high incidence of comedy that's actually funny.

Brody and Ruffalo play Bloom and Stephen, two thirty-something con men who have become legendary because of the audacity and complexity of their schemes. The capers are plotted by Stephen, who "writes [them] the way dead Russians wrote novels." That makes him the Dostoevsky of the caper world. Bloom, however, wants out. He wants an "unwritten life," one where his every move is not the result of a role he's playing in a scenario. He wants something real. So his brother convinces him to go out big, with one last scam. Aided by their girl Friday, Bang Bang (Babel's Rinko Kikuchi, whose limited English isn't a problem because the film doesn't require her to speak more than a handful of words - including a memorable "fuck me"), who's an "artist with nitro glycerin," the brothers head for New Jersey. Their mark is a lonely, wealthy heiress named Penelope (Weisz), who has a penchant for crashing expensive cars, is a self-described "epileptic photographer," and "collects hobbies." She and Stephen meet (the term "meet cute" doesn't quite apply here), get to know each other, and fall in love. That's bad for the con because, of course, it's tough to screw over a lover. Then again, considering Stephen's penchant for long, involved, convoluted capers, maybe that's necessary to what's happening - especially when one considers that "The best con is when everyone gets what they want."

The Brothers Bloom with satisfy those with a yearning for lighthearted heist tales, comedies, and offbeat romances. There's plenty of love in the air, both of the sexual and fraternal kind. The movie breezes by effortlessly, and goes down easy. One or two of the twists are easy to predict and a few of the turns may cause some head-scratching (the mechanics of the climax are a little puzzling and leave themselves open to interpretation), but they punctuate the storyline with comfortable regularity. Often, it's unclear whether the action we're watching is "real" or part of a con or a con-within-a-con. This can be both good and bad, in that is invites an audience's intellectual participation but also allows Johnson to cheat, or at least fudge things a little. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of The Brothers Bloom is the comedy, which manages to be funny and smart at the same time - a rarity when most movies are aiming low and going for the least common denominator when it comes to humor. (Full disclosure: Everything is not "high brow" - there is a "fart joke.")

The actors are well matched to the parts and effectively mesh. Adrien Brody plays the role of Bloom with a suitable helping of melancholy and loneliness (echoing at times Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp), and works surprisingly well as a romantic lead. (Better, at least, than in King Kong.) Mark Ruffalo is a likeable rogue - a change of pace for a guy who usually plays darker and heavier parts. Rachel Weisz positively sparkles, lending her blend of sexiness and ditziness to this film (instead of wasting it on the third Mummy movie). Rinko Kikuchi steals scenes with her nearly-mute portrayal of Bang Bang - boy, does that woman have an expressive face! It's a shame that Oscar nominations aren't doled out for this sort of role. To me, Kikuchi is more memorable here than in Babel, a part for which she was recognized by the Academy. Maximilian Schell and Robbie Coltrane have supporting parts, rounding out the nearly perfect cast.

It's hard not to enjoy The Brothers Bloom - it's made to be savored, but it can also be consumed by an ADD viewer who is determined to scarf the whole thing down in one bite. Unlike Brick, which was pitched to a niche audience (and found it), The Brothers Bloom should be able to reach a more mainstream group. The recognizable names are an asset, but the things that should really help this movie get noticed are the positive reviews and the enthusiastic word-of-mouth it is sure to generate. Ignore the indignities of Tom Hanks running around Rome trying to avoid an anti-matter bomb blowing up the Vatican and instead spend two hours with these loveable rogues. You'll thank me afterward.

Brothers Bloom, The (United States, 2008)

Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel Weisz, Rinko Kikuchi, Robbie Coltrane
Screenplay: Rian Johnson
Cinematography: Steve Yedlin
Music: Nathan Johnson
U.S. Distributor: Summit Entertainment
Run Time: 1:49
U.S. Release Date: 2009-05-15
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Occasional Profanity, Mild Violence, Brief Rear Female Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2:35:1