22 May 2009 | Quinoa1984
oddly enough, or maybe not, character-driven more than by plot - which works
The Brothers Bloom starts off with a bang of cinematic energy. We're introduced, by a kind of whimsical narrator not unlike one might have remembered from Pushing Daisies, to the brothers, Stephen and Bloom, as children in a town where everything is one-note: one group of kids, one store, one this or that. Stephen, the more inventive one of the duo (or rather, the one that will whip up a plan with a quirk or two not unlike Owen Wilson in Bottle Rocket), devises the first con to be that of intriguing the hell out of a group of kids- first part introducing Bloom to a girl, which he likes right away- and then leading to a cave that tricks them all into believing something is there which, of course, is not.
This entire section, about five to ten minutes, is a brilliant short film, self-contained within itself and donning the kind of energy that, again, can be comparable to Wes Anderson. This is not to knock Rian Johnson as an original talent. He is. But for anyone that's seen any of Anderson's films, specifically Bottle Rocket and Rushmore and Life Aquatic, this is that kind of speedy intro that includes very precise pans and movements with the camera and facial expressions that mark this as something, well, "different". This also appears to be how the rest of the story will pan out, this distinctive, acute and stylish endeavor of film-making, as the brothers, grown up (Adrien Brody as Bloom, Mark Ruffalo as Stephen) are continuing with their cons until Bloom wants out, leading up to the typical "one-last-con" deal where-in they'll con a reclusive New Jersey heiress Penelope (Rachel Weisz) who has way too much time on her hands as well as money for the taking.
Then there's the complications, of romance between Bloom and Penelope, and the complication that she's let in on Stephen and Bloom being "artifact smugglers", then the appearance of a certain nefarious figure known as "Diamond Dog", and meanwhile their Silent Bob figure, Bang Bang (Rino Kikuchi), tags along as someone who we only find out late in the game of the story that she has a cell phone (?) and can make origami at just the right moment.
All of this makes The Brothers Bloom sound quite plot driven, not to mention the ups and downs and twists and turns of the cons that happen, or don't, between the brothers, Penelope, the revelations, etc. Depending on the viewer, and how much they'll want to believe or, frankly, how many movies they've seen of this type (one could see this as being a slick parody of a film like 2003's Confidence, also co-starring Rachel Weisz if memory serves), it's like following magicians doing work, not believing a thing or believing everything. Or some of it, perhaps. It's almost like the Prestige if it didn't actually want the audience to believe in magic. More that Johnson wants the audience to make the distinction between characters who draw their own reality and can't seem to break out into their own "unwritten" roles.
And yet, for all the story's twists and turns, its strengths are in the characters. It's actually, not too unlike Anderson (again, sorry), more European influenced in that regard as it takes us along on its journey because of the characters, not the other way around. This helps since the characters all work with their respective players, more or less. More because of Adrien Brody and Rachel Weisz, who play off each other wonderfully as an at-first awkward couple who get further romantically involved (there's a wonderful, spot-on charming scene where we see them kiss, and we understand clearly Penelope is having her first French-style) and connect closest with how Johnson casts them. Less with Ruffalo, who grew on me as the film went on, mainly towards the end (his last scene, without spoiling much, is a keeper for his extended reel), since he's meant to be conniving and devilish but doesn't really fit in even as he's good at delivering the lines and countering Brody and Weisz.
The other way it's also European is that it's meant to be, and is, a director's tour-de-force. As the sophomore effort of Rian Johnson, after his first very impressive debut Brick (which, I should note, also tooled playfully with conventions of a genre as he attempts here), he's aiming quite high. The only problem that I encountered with it was that, perhaps by some proxy of the script, it takes a lot to really get emotionally wound up with these people.
The style of his camera, the tricks of his editing, are like cons in and of themselves, but there's (apologies for this over-used word) quirks to the proceedings that deflate some scenes that would work much better in straightforward terms (I may have been the only one rolling my eyes at the "knickname" for Bang Bang being Yuengling with the line "Yuengling, like the beer?"). Sometimes this excess-of-style works well, like when we flash through all of the "hobbies" Penelope does in her countless spare time at her mansion. Other times, sad to say, it just calls attention to itself without being cool-hip ala Ocean's Eleven or warm-hearted ala (one more time) an Anderson picture.
And yet, for the gripes I might have had, it's impossible for me to ignore what Johnson has shown here and in Brick. He delivers characters we want to watch and situations that unfold with diverting, entertaining results, even as one might never fully believe what will happen next. Or maybe we do. He's a director that isn't going away, and to me this is a good thing. That's no con. 7.5/10