Monday, November 16, 2009

Brothers Bloom: Belated Thoughts

I didn't write a lot about films this summer. I wrote about Up. We saw a lot of movies - Harry Potter, The Proposal, Cheri, The Time Traveler's Wife...a lot of movies, but for some reason, I didn't feel the need to write about them.

Except for The Brothers Bloom. I sat in the theater and heard myself preparing the review even as Danny and I watched.

It's not a great film. It won't be nominated for anything come February. But of all the films we saw during the summer, I think I enjoyed this one the most. For all of its faults, it's ambitious; while it doesn't fully succeed, it's a joy to watch it try.

The film stars Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody. I've liked Ruffalo since The Last Castle and, honestly, since 13 Going on 30 (I just love when he looks at Jennifer Garner and says, believably, "We're not friends anymore, Jenna," like he's revisiting his high school days all over again). Brody was superb in The Pianist, with his huge sad eyes. They work well for him here.

They are two brothers. One named Stephen, the other, Bloom. That they're called "The Brothers Bloom" is a bit of a mystery, but whatever. We meet them as children, drifting from foster home to foster home in a decidedly Tom and Huck sort of existence. There, Stephen discovers his knack for conning, with Bloom wishing that, maybe, it were real.

Their adult lives proceed in the same fashion. Stephen (as described in the best line of the movie) "writes his cons they way dead Russians write novels, with thematic arcs and embedded symbolism..." He scripts Bloom as the brooding anti-hero. The more elaborate the con, the happier Stephen is.

Stephen is dating Bang Bang, whom he describes as their fifth Beetle. Bang Bang doesn't speak much. Her non-speech is so effective that when she does talk, it's a bit of a disappointment. There's a Marx Brothers sensibility to a lot of the film - Bang Bang is a more elegant version of Harpo. She carries a blowtorch instead of a horn, and she's not afraid to use it.

The other female character is Penelope. Rachel Weisz plays her somewhere between eccentric and certifiable. A wealthy recluse, she is a collector of hobbies. Stephen writes her as Bloom's love interest. Whether or not Bloom is interested is besides the point.

Rian Johnson also directed Brick, a noir-esque whodunit set in a high school with characters who'd watched a lot of Humphrey Bogart and Gene Tierney movies. It was an homage to the genre.

Likewise, The Brothers Bloom is an homage to the caper film, as loving if not as successful as The Sting, which Johnson lists as an inspiration.

Brothers drips with literary references. Stephen and Bloom walk around a somewhat modern world dressed like characters in mid-nineteenth century novel, and not just because they're based on characters from James Joyce's Ulysses. Their approach to the con is all about style.

The weakest part of the film is probably Weisz's Penelope, who seems the sort of person who really should not be allowed to cross the street without adult supervision. There is also a sequence on the train which makes no logical sense.

Like I said, it's not a great movie, but it tries hard. Johnson is good at creating films with familiar parts made fresh. I'm looking to his next film - even if the journey doesn't reach the intended destination, at least it's a fun ride.


  1. Sorry but I think Weisz's Penelope was the best part of of the entire film. A real funny and warm performance.

  2. Oh, I don't fault her performance. She learned all of those hobbies for the film. I didn't think the role was written as well as it could have been, though. Her motivations were never clear.

  3. The Brothers Bloom is an homage to the caper film, as loving if not as successful as The Sting, which Johnson lists as an inspiration.

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