The View From Here

First Look -- The Brothers Bloom

Michael Bonner

In 2005’s Brick, Rian Johnson played a cute twist on the high school movie genre, importing the tropes of film noir for a murder thriller set in the halls of academe. The Brothers Bloom, last night’s premier at the London Film Festival, is a similarly knowing piece of work. On face value, it’s a movie about two con men brothers, played by Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody; but, more than that, it’s also a movie about the act of fiction itself.

Stephen (Ruffalo) and Bloom (Brody) are the greatest con men in the world. That’s no idle boast. Stephen’s scams are wonderful, exotic creations, almost baroque in their complexity, but when boiled down to basics they invariably involve using Bloom as some kind of bait. As the film opens, Bloom is in the throes of an existential crisis; he feels Stephen is writing his life, that his personality has just become a part in one of his brother's ingenious stings. He craves “an unwritten life” away from Stephen and their mute explosives expert Bang-Bang (Rinko Kikuchi). Bloom agrees to one last con: fleecing Penelope (Rachel Weisz), an eccentric, semi-reclusive millionairess. But, of course, things don’t go according to plan, as you might imagine when you factor in a one-eyed Russian gangster, Robbie Coltrane’s Belgian “museum curator” and the small matter that Bloom and Penelope falling in love.

I’m reminded, in the costumes and set design, of a Wes Anderson movie; while there’s something in the exploration of dysfunctional families that chimes with, well, everything Anderson’s done. And, more conspicuously, the casting of Brody, who was so good in The Darjeeling Limited. But Johnson’s writing is looser, less arch than Anderson’s; in fact, after the heavily stylised exchanges in Brick, it’s quite a surprise to find The Brothers Bloom’s writing feels this warm. As a rule, The Brothers Bloom is simple very funny; though there are, sure, a couple of notably quirky moments. In one scene, Penelope explains to Bloom how she’s addicted to hobbies: we cut to a series of montages of her playing table tennis, kick boxing, DJing, breakdancing...

I think what works best is the dynamic between Stephen, Bloom and Penelope. Stephen is colourful, flamboyant presence; Bloom more introverted, pensive. He seems to, well, bloom when he meets Penelope, who in turn grows from an awkward, gawky woman, clearly not too used to having many people around, into a warm, vibrant figure. The shifts in character are gentle and endearing. They anchor the film, to some extent, as Stephen’s final scam significantly blurs the lines between reality and fiction. As in any great con movie, you find yourself questioning, as the film enters its third act, the veracity of what you’re watching on screen. Who’s scamming who here, exactly?

The Brothers Bloom will open next year in the UK.


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