“An unwritten life”
After seeing the masterpiece that is Rian Johnson’s debut film Brick, I could not wait to see what he had up his sleeve. When I heard his follow-up would be a con artist film featuring Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel Weisz, I couldn’t hold in my excitement. Yet upon viewing the trailer, my expectations fizzled ever so slightly, the short clip showing me what looked to be a generic ho-hum story that lacked the originality his first film held in abundance. But let me tell you, as soon as the credits rolled after my screening at the Toronto Film Festival, I found a huge smile on my face as the final result was nothing short of magnificent. While the complete polar opposite of Brick, Johnson left the Dashiell Hammett prose and instead decided to delve into Wes Anderson territory. His The Brothers Bloom is a smart, witty adventure that takes some unexpected turns on its journey, never lets a detail fall into obscurity, and shows that if nothing else, he is a high caliber storyteller that should be around for a long time, not rehashing the same thing over and over again, but churning out refreshingly new and unique yarns to entertain and enlighten.
This tale is about a duo of con men—the best in the world—who reunite to do one last job. The younger, Bloom, has been playing the roles written by Stephen since they were children, always embodying the character so easily because it allowed him to be that which was not himself. After having fallen in love with too many marks, only to watch as they swindled and left them out to dry, Bloom is ready to quit and goes into self-imposed exile for three years until his partner finds him and rounds him up for one last big score. That score involves an eccentric shut-in, a woman who has never left her mansion and collects hobbies in order to entertain herself. A master with a deck of cards, juggler extraordinaire, harp player, and ping-pong champ, amongst other activities, there is little she does not know. This epileptic photographer is anxious to go off on an adventure and opening up to the Brothers Bloom is her perfect opportunity to do so, and their best chance at an easy million dollars.
What the men did not account for was her inexhaustible sense of enthusiasm and uncanny knack for the con game. Getting herself out of situations that the brothers can’t even fathom and catching on to things so quickly, it’s as though the mark becomes the professional, however, that is exactly Stephen’s plan. She is a woman of intelligence, beauty, and unique without compare. Penelope is exactly the girl that Bloom has been looking for, but of course, she is discovered in one of Stephen’s stories, accessible only until they must cut her loose. Yet, here comes the first “what if” of the film. What if our orchestrator has concocted this all for Bloom, a con on a grand scale in order to give him the life he always wanted? Bloom does say that Penelope feels just like one of Stephen’s characters, but as he says in his defense, “the day I con you, is the day I die.” We can only hope those words don’t become prophetically true.
Johnson weaves an intricate shell game for his characters to roam through, crossing paths, discovering secrets, telling lies, and possibly conning each other. No one truly can tell what’s real because not only are they unsure themselves, they know that every one of them has the potential to make-up an elaborate scheme to confuse and manipulate. Ruffalo is the true artist at this game, crudely drawing up a plan of attack in brainstorm bubble trees, thinly veiling his tales with inside jokes that a woman like Penelope (Weisz) is well-informed enough to see through, yet too naïve to put together. Straight from the start, a childhood narrated by Ricky Jay, these boys have gotten what they wanted and planned to perfection. Trained by the nefarious Diamond Dog, the men, (Brody portraying the other, Bloom), have eclipsed their master and took the world by storm. Along with their pyrotechnics guru Bang Bang, (Rinko Kikuchi) and a select cast of regular actors (Robbie Coltrane as the Belgian and a great string of cameos in a bar scene early on with Nora Zehetner, Noah Segan, and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him Joseph Gordon-Levitt all showing some Brick love), the boys always get what they want. Ultimately attempting to create the perfect con—so well planned out and airtight that it happens all by itself—this con becomes reality and everyone gets exactly what they wanted.
The Brothers Bloom is told in a storybook fashion with bright colors and in-focus frames. Johnson jam-packs each composition with detail upon detail, never shying away from having an important plot point occur in the background, behind a conversation or action by our leads at the forefront. Pay close attention because things said at the start have a very good chance of coming back later on. Most times these are jokes, lending some levity to the situation, one that becomes ever more dark as the charade goes along—unexpectedly dark, yet perfectly so. His use of humor infuses a heart into the proceedings and a true bond and relationship between Stephen and Bloom, two men that learn to hate each other at the end of a job, but always come to the others help when needed at the start. You must be diligent to the environment surrounding our actors, as it is just as much playing a role as they, helping a truly bold and intricate story be disguised as a simple one. Very slight on first appearance, it is the fact that it’s so well told that makes it seem simpler than it really is. Without any bloated superfluities or weakly handled tangents, this tightly woven tapestry lives on its own at a breakneck speed, culminating with a spectacular final twist, an end that had been building up right from the start in that bourgeois playground during the boys’ foster home placement. The Brothers Bloom look out for each other and never let the other down, no matter what damage it may cause to themselves. In the end, they do it all for their brother, anything they can to make the other’s life a success.
The Brother Bloom 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½
courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival