The Brothers Bloom
The thing about most con man movies is that you inevitably come out of it feeling a bit conned yourself. So many twist and turns, it’s hard to tell who to root for. With The Brothers Bloom, that isn’t even close to being the case. Or maybe it is. As Stephen learns in the opening, the best con is where both sides get what they want.
Stephen (Ruffalo) and Bloom (Brody) are orphans, bouncing from foster home to foster home when they come across their calling. The shy Bloom becomes an outgoing actor in the always cunning Stephen’s increasingly complex cons, some spanning several months and several countries. This goes on for years, until Bloom finally announces that he’s had it with Stephen’s stories. Again. He can no longer tell the difference between reality and fantasy, and wants an “unwritten life.” Stephen concedes and Bloom goes off to find his unwritten life, which apparently consists of consuming many bottles of wine and lots of cigars in Montenegro.
Three months later, Stephen arrives with a final con: Millionaire heiress Penelope Stamp has never left her home. Stephen wants to write a story that sweeps her off her feet and shows her what she’s been missing from life, or at least her idea of what she’s been missing. He also wouldn’t mind conning her out of $1 million dollars. So begins a tale that, while not the greatest con movie ever made, turns out to be one of the greatest con character studies. It takes the convention of pretending to be someone else and, while it doesn’t necessarily aspire to the meta-fiction of say a Charlie Kaufman movie, it is no less interesting.
Marc Ruffalo and Adrien Brody are great together as brothers just trying to take care of each other and find their way. There’s a genuine caring between the two and the sense that even though Bloom is tired of Stephen’s stories, he goes along with it simply because he loves his brother so much and can’t bear to be without him. Ruffalo, in particular, seems to be having the most fun he’s ever had with a role. His understated attention to detail and, more importantly, attention to Bloom is a factor that drives his every motivation.
Rachel Weisz’s Penelope Stamp is a work of genius, a character so unique and real that when she proclaims with great glee: “Oh, it totally is an adventure story!” you can’t help but be drawn in. Her enthusiasm is infectious. The story of her life at home is enough to break your heart, but Weisz delivers the monologue so well that you’re not sad for her in the least. Her chemistry with Brody perfectly conveys that awkwardness that can only exist in real relationships and the first time they hold hands is so poignant and well-done, you’d swear you were falling in love with them too. Rachel Weisz is simply amazing in this film.
The one character I haven’t mentioned yet is played by Rinko Kikuchi (Babel) and is simply named Bang Bang. She is a partner of the brothers who simply “appears one day.” Now I read a review right before posting mine that ripped her role to shreds. An excerpt: “She’s an updated dragon-lady stereotype; the character’s principal utility is to show that there can actually be more insulting roles for Asian actresses.”
Bang Bang, who delivers one line of dialogue the entire movie (aside from her excellent musical number), is one of the strongest characters in the film. When your entire character hinges on personality, not dialogue, that’s something difficult to convey. However, Rinko delivers in spades and then some. Bomb crazy, precocious, and devious Rinko’s Bang Bang brought the audience to life whenever she hit the screen. It’s a true wonder to behold a character who charms you so completely, and a testament to her ability as an actress, that you care about someone who never actually says a word.
That bring us to Rian Johnson, writer/director of Brick and The Brothers Bloom. A lot of people have been asking if this film is better than his first and in some regards it is. It’s a completely different film, however which makes comparing the two inherently pointless. Johnson has obviously grown in leaps as a director since Brick, and has an amazing grasp on how to get real (re: not wooden) emotion out of his actors. [I got to take in a short Q + A with Johnson after the film. I didn’t get my question answered (boo!), but he comes across as genuine and pretty hilarious.]
I can’t help but feel a bit conned by the ending, but everything that came before is so precious I gave myself over to it like children chasing the possibility of willow wisps into a dark cave. In this current incarnation of Hollywood, dominated by remakes and adaptations, The Brothers Bloom is more than a breath of fresh air. It makes you remember why you loved movies in the first place. I can’t wait to see it again. The audience I was with were as enthralled as I was, and completely along for the ride. All in all, I loved this movie.
Especially that drunk camel.