The Brothers Bloom

An exercise in swindling an audience, The Brothers Bloom is a movie where each character holds many tricks up his or her sleeve, and the film as a whole doesn’t reveal everything until the very end — and even then you might not understand what just happened. It does all this with a light, happy, comedic tone, meaning you will laugh while shaking your head. At times, it might try to be too clever, and attempt to trick up one or two times too many, but it’s an enjoyable movie which will leave you smiling at the end.

The basic conceit involves the Brothers Bloom, Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody) — no, I don’t know why they’re the “Brothers Bloom” when only one of them is named “Bloom” and he’s not even the most important one — deciding to swindle money from a rich, lonely and eccentric woman, Penelope (Rachel Weisz), through an incredibly convoluted and silly con. Along with a silent partner, Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), they approach her and take her on the ride of a lifetime, all with the hope that they will wind up being millions of dollars richer for the experience.

It’s also a “last job” movie, because that’s a popular story template. I get it: it provides a chance for a proper conclusion, and it raises the stakes. This isn’t really a heist movie — although some could easily classify it as such — but it uses elements from the genre. There is definitely a target and there’s a few characters who have to work together in order to acquire it. But the film around it works more like a road movie, moving from place to place with various stops along the way.

What The Brothers Bloom does best is keep its audience guessing. Exactly how much of the film is planned by Stephen as part of the con? How much does everyone involved know? What unplanned events happen? What’s with a man named The Curator (Robbie Coltrane)? There are so many questions you will ask yourself while watching this film, and you’ll be unlikely to guess all of the answers for them before you’re shown. This isn’t a predictable movie.

In fact, all of the questions you’ll ask of the film while it’s playing are going to do a better job of holding your attention than the characters or the situations they face. The thinking that The Brothers Bloom makes you do is something you don’t often have happen with a movie. It does an exceptional job of exciting because of the way that it doesn’t let you in the know. I’m not sure if everything holds up upon closer inspection, but it certainly seemed like it does after a single viewing.

There are some points when the convolution becomes too much, when you can no longer follow along and have to work to catch up. The twists upon twists upon twists make you wonder what the point of it all is. Everything most assuredly happens, but what’s the point of it all if it gets rendered redundant because of a twist in the story? The Brothers Bloom can be frustrating at these moments. Stick with it, though, as almost all of it makes sense at the end, even if the ending itself will leave some with a perplexed face.

I liked that it didn’t dumb itself down for those in the audience unwilling to commit fully to watching it. If you aren’t paying attention, you will get lost. You won’t be able to remember whether what you’re seeing is real, or a con, or a con-within-a-con, or even another layer down. You’ll have trouble keeping track of when a character is acting for the benefit of another, or if he or she is being natural. The film is complicated enough to inspire thought on the part of an audience, and I appreciate it for this. When a filmmakers respects those who watch his or her film, that’s a positive.

The film’s director is Rian Johnson, whose debut film, Brick, was much the same as this one. Both have an impeccable sense of style, have a great deal of charm, and are very funny. This is a filmmaker who gets how to make a crowd-pleasing film with an intelligent plot and characters. And he does it with underutilized genres and by making films which seem to transcend time.

He’s also shown a talent for getting good performances out of his actors. Here, the lead is Adrien Brody, who acts mopey but somehow is also charming and an effective romantic. Mark Ruffalo is always smiling here, and is the brains of the con operation. His character writes “scripts” for the cons, and it’s because of this mechanic that we wonder, at all times, exactly how much of the plot is “scripted.” Rachel Weisz delivers the best performance, acting both ditzy and smart, ignorant and all-knowing. Mention should also be made of Rinko Kikuchi, who has an expressive face and steals more than a couple of scenes, despite getting only a handful of words — not even lines.

The Brothers Bloom is a successful movie on many levels. It’s funny, exciting, and keeps its audience guessing at every turn. At times, it tries to be too smart, but for the most part it ties everything together perfectly if you pay attention and stick with it. It has a strong script, good performances, and an interesting premise. I recommend giving it a watch.

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