Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Adrien Brody, Rachel Weisz, Robbie Coltrane
Fresh from his dazzling debut, Brick, Rian Johnson moved from grit to grifters with The Brothers Bloom. Riffing on the con movie conventions, his tale of two swindling siblings is a fuzzy, funny affair. Stephen (Ruffalo) is the brains of the outfit, mapping out his cons to the minutest of details – they may look like a kid scribbled them on a piece of scrap paper but he treats cheating like a work of art, writing tales with thematic arcs and symbolism. Pulling them off with him is little brother Bloom (Brody), who’s been sidekicking it since they were kids. Stephen maintains that the perfect con lets everyone get what they want, but their life of fraud and fairytales has left Bloom yearning for something real: an unwritten life.
And so the pair settle on their final scam. Her name: Penelope (Weisz). An eccentric heiress alone in a mansion from childhood, her naïve excitement at the thought of a fake adventure is naturally infectious – as she juggles chainsaws standing on stilts, once again it’s hard not to fall in love with Rachel Weisz. Bloom certainly does. Will he continue the con, scamming her for her millions? Is she, so perfect a match for Stephen’s brother, just another character in a make-believe story?
Rian Johnson’s playful piece continues in this vein for the rest of the runtime, flying from country to country with some real zest. The snappy dialogue whips back and forth, carried by the characters’ chemistry (Robbie Coltrane’s turn as a dirty Belgian is scene-stealing gold). But as Rian weaves his magical web, the layers become tangled, ensnaring the screenplay mid-flight. The direction is lively enough - with swish-pans borrowed from Wes Anderson - and the stylish soundtrack (by Rian’s brother, Nathan) is as jaunty as Scott Joplin, but the fault lies with the genre it plays upon.
The Brothers Bloom is a con movie about conning people without being a con itself. You watch for the wool to be pulled over the camera as the script so earnestly highlights the contrast of reality versus performance. But the intricate touches end up distracting you from all the fun. Fortunately, when the ending does come, it brings with it an elegant moment of pathos. With an on-form cast, including Rinko Kikuchi’s mute pyrotechnic, Bang Bang, Rian's oddball outing is something that's easy to savour.
A story about telling stories, The Brothers Bloom is enjoyable to the last. It’s far from Brick, but far from boring.